Networking 101

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Networking. It means different things to different people but for many it sounds awful. For a long time, I was one of those people. Whenever, I was at an event or with a group of strangers I’d have my back firmly against a wall waiting for the scheduled program or an appropriate time to leave. Since joining Inforum last year my ability to mix and mingle has improved tremendously and – more importantly – my interest in doing such things has increased even more.

I really can’t say enough good things about Inforum. If you are a woman in Michigan who is interested in professional growth and meeting new people, I highly recommend joining the organization. It’s a welcoming environment with so many nice people. I’ve made more new friends and acquaintances since joining than I did throughout college. The positive energy has rubbed off on me and I have new found confidence (and – seriously – better posture).

If you’re like me, joining a new group and meeting people sounds great but also intimidating, so here are a few tips on how to make the process easier.

Don’t overthink things: I’m cursed with replaying conversations and actions in my head over and over again both before and after they happen. I’ve discovered many people share this thought process. You are inevitably going to be harder on yourself than other people are so try to relax and remember that most people aren’t judgmental.

You Matter: The grass isn’t greener on the other side. No matter your age, job title or personal situation, you are interesting and have things to offer. Once you embrace your value others will notice it too and confidence speaks louder than anything you can say.

Introduce Yourself: Yes, it’s easier if someone else makes the first move but that won’t always happen. Don’t be afraid to approach someone new, there is a very good chance that they are waiting for someone to come up to them. You also don’t need an ‘excuse’ to say hello (i.e. “Did you drop this napkin?”). “Hi, I’m Carrie. What’s your name?” is a perfectly acceptable introduction.

Follow-up: This is key. After you meet someone new – especially at a professional event – find them on LinkedIn and spend a personalized invitation request. It’s not as ‘invasive’ or as much of a commitment as Facebook but it opens a pathway for future dialogue. If you’re really interested in talking with the person more include an invitation to coffee. Note: Having a person’s business card can be key to making LinkedIn connections because you will need their email address. If you don’t have a business card through work, order one on VistaPrint – it’s cheap.

Follow Through: If you commit to meeting a new person – do it! Things come up all the time, so don’t be intimidated if plans fall through. Be flexible and offer alternative dates. Everyone is busy and sometime a ringleader is needed to get something on the calendar.

Keep In Touch: You don’t have to talk to someone every week or even every month to maintain a relationship. The frequency in which you communicate with someone will depend on the type of relationship you want to have. Often a casual note every few months is all it takes. If you see an article of interest, forward it with a brief note (and non-forwarded Subject line). Perhaps you’ve met someone new that you think would be a valuable connection, let them know and offer to make an email introduction.

Be Generous: If you can use your network to help someone new, do it! You don’t have to vouch for their ability but you can let them know about the industry or share an email of a colleague.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help: Some people you’ll be able to help but some people will be able to help you (with a resume review, a recommendation or an introduction). Perhaps it’s not a quid pro quo situation right now but it could be one day. Most people like to feel valued and that they can make a difference. If by chance they don’t – well the worse they can say is no. Rejection hurts but tougher skin will see you through.

Photo Credit: Inforum

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