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How to network
(August 2010)Networking is extremely important, and it can help to further your career - as long as it is done in a useful way. I add that last caveat because many people view networking as a process that 'happens' incidentally just by attending events and talking to people. Networking - if not done in a useful way - can be a huge waste of time, and can even be detrimental to your career.
Networking is a word that can strike fear into the heart of the less outgoing amongst us, and the thought of being at an event where you don't know anyone and will be required to approach strangers and possibly impress them, can be incredibly daunting. However, we can all learn how to be more effective networkers, and the good news is that it really isn't that hard.
The first step is to look at networking as a way of meeting other people who may, or may not, be able to work with you on some level in the future, and who may (or may not) be able to put you in touch with other people who can work with you in the future. By making connections with other people you will become more well known in your industry, and opportunities can open up for you.
So, how do you go about it? Firstly, prepare. Make sure that you are dressed appropriately, and that you are aware of the objectives of the event that you are attending, and the likely people/ organisations that will be there. Make sure you are aware of how this event is relevant to you/ your company, so that you are not left stuck for words if someone asks what your connection is to the event.
If you are seated at a table then will need to start by talking to the people there. Otherwise, identify a small group of people, or another person alone, and approach them to introduce yourself. Aim at keeping it short and sweet. Introduce yourself and your company and (if appropriate) offer a business card. Ask the other person what they do, and how they are enjoying the event so far. If you get stuck for conversation then the best thing to do is to ask questions. Ask what their job involves, how they got into that industry, and if they have had to travel far. Networking events are usually full of people who are more keen to blow their own trumpets than get to know others. By asking questions, and being genuine you will stand out from the rest.
Don't get stuck with one person for too long. When it is time to move on say something along the lines of not wanting to monopolise that person, and how great it was to meet them, and that you hope to catch up with them again before the day is over. If you have received a business card, then later on email or call that person to reiterate how nice it was to meet them, and to invite them to contact you again at any time.
Also be aware that the more you do it the easier it gets!