9 Tips for Successful and Painless Networking

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Networking can make or break your career, but many of us fear the very thought of pressing flesh and “working a room.”

Fortunately, networking doesn’t have to be like that. Like any other social skill, networking has some unwritten rules. Learn this road map, and networking can become surprisingly easy.

So just how do you successfully network? These nine tips will help.

1. Relax

Networking is nothing more than meeting people at any gathering. Pros recommend that you think of each person you meet as a friend of a friend. Walk up, introduce yourself by name and briefly tell what you do. When the person shares his or her name, you have the start of a conversation.

2. Stop talking

Yes, you want to hold up your end of the conversation, but don’t overdo it. Many newbie networkers are so eager to share their stories that they deliver a monologue. The person you meet isn’t your biographer. Don’t share your life story. You are looking to connect, not close a deal.

3. Listen

Make it a rule to listen more than you talk. And don’t look over the person’s shoulder for other people to meet. Concentrate on what the person says, ask questions and engage.

4. Keep in contact

Don’t overwhelm those you enjoy meeting. Instead, make polite conversation, then move on. Try to remember what you’ve learned about someone — such as his or her interests — and follow up once or twice during the year.

5. Think of contacts as people, not connections

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about what contacts can do for YOU instead of how you might help them. But even successful people can use help at various times. If you can help, do so.

6. Make your requests specific

If you’re asking a new acquaintance for something, make sure your request is specific and something he or she can deliver on. Don’t ask someone to keep you in mind if any positions open up — face it, they’re too busy to keep you in mind.

Instead, ask if you can contact them in a month — after the holidays, or in the new fiscal year — to see whether anything new has cropped up.

If you have a specific goal in mind, simply ask: “Whom do you think I should I talk to?” People typically feel good about making an introduction.

7. Don’t drop the ball on referrals

One major networking mistake is to take contact information and not follow up. Thank the person, take the recommended action, and tell your contact what transpired — or at least explain why you didn’t take action.

8. Take notes

Soon after you meet a new contact, put a few helpful notes on the back of their business card. What industry is the contact in? What did you discuss? Did you promise to send something or otherwise follow up?

9. Show gratitude, and be specific

If you have coffee with someone or even pick their brain during a networking session, thank him or her. Show gratitude to those who share their time and expertise by sending a quick email. If possible, share how his or her advice helped you — maybe you got a job or won a contract as a result, or maybe you simply came to understand the marketplace better.

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