If networking could create energy, Washington DC would be fully self-sustainable with enough reserves to hold us through at least the next solar eclipse. From face-to-face business conferences to strangers inquiring what you do at a bar, almost every interaction, especially in the District, can turn into an opportunity to expand your network.
While seasoned pros may make it seem like an innate skill, for many, networking requires the development of specific tricks used to create mutually-gratifying relationships with like-minded, or at least like-locationed™, individuals. Looking for somewhere to start on your networking journey? Here are some dos and don’ts to start you off and help you avoid some common mistakes.
- Bring plenty of business cards. There’s nothing worse than making a great connection and then realizing you just gave away your last card. You can never have too many on hand, and every time you give one out you create a sustainable connection. Looking to stand out? It never hurts to add some creativity to your card (if you go with the chocolate card please let me know the next networking event you will be attending)
- Have an elevator pitch. Your peers don’t want to hear you ramble on about what you do for 5 minutes. Rehearse a quick, 30-second pitch that is concise and accurately describes your professional trajectory.
- Have an active LinkedIn profile. This is a great way to engage in relevant discussions and keep in touch with contacts. Sending ‘congratulations’ and ‘happy birthday’ messages allow relationships to continue far past your initial interaction.
- Attend events that interest you. You will have an automatic conversation starter, and may even have a good time! My co-worker (and proud author of blogs such as Communications: The Tofu of Careers), Noah Walker, is involved in Green Drinks DC, where young professionals interested in the environment gather together and mingle over good beer and beautiful scenery. Events like these allow you to learn about a good cause while making connections and expanding your network.
- Follow up. Why spend so much time meeting and engaging with people if you don’t continue those relationships? My favorite follow-up method? Ask for help. People tend to be flattered when you go to them for guidance, and can put you in touch with more contacts in your field.
- Don’t corner the person you want to talk to. While researching some of the attendees of an event can absolutely give you an advantage, cornering and barraging someone you know to be a heavy hitter in the industry is not a great move. Instead, try to create a natural introduction, or connect with someone that can introduce you. Conversation shorter than you would have liked? Rather than going back or forcing an extended interaction, let your next interaction be your follow-up.
- Don’t do all the talking. Believe it or not, people can have big egos, and will most likely remember you most fondly if you let them do plenty of talking. While you shouldn’t shy away from giving your elevator pitch, remember to listen and ask inquisitive questions based on what they’ve said.
- Do not hand out your card to everyone in the room. Two longer meaningful conversations are worth far more than 15 quick card hand-outs. Making a lasting impression will do more than a flashy business card any day (unless it’s the previously mentioned chocolate card- hand as many of those out as you can).
- Don’t give up! It can take a while to see the benefits of expanding your network. Even if those you meet at your first few events are not able to help you, someone at your next event may be, or know, someone who can. Stick with it!