Whether you love it, hate it, or simply tolerate it, networking is an essential part of career building, especially since employee referrals continue to be a top way to get your foot in the door at many companies.
Like all business ventures, it’s important to be strategic about networking. But it’s also important to smile and follow other time-honored motherly advice. Here are some do’s and don’ts to make networking easier and more productive.
DO choose the right event.
Research what events to attend. If you’re interested in breaking into advertising, you clearly won’t be attending an engineering seminar. But a marketing happy hour may not be the right fit either. Every networking event is a chance to hone your skills, but you don’t want to waste your time, so choose carefully.
DO go with a friend.
Once you find the right event, bring a career-minded friend that shares similar interests. Even better? Bring a friend already in the industry that can introduce you to others. While having someone you know on hand will up your comfort level, just be sure to mingle.
DO act like yourself.
Your mom was right when you were a kid and she’s right now: The very best way to succeed—in networking and beyond—is to be yourself. Really! So don’t put on airs (but skip the “authentically you” inappropriate jokes, too). People want to meet the real you, not someone you’re pretending to be.
DO feel confident.
No matter how you feel about your achievements or your career, be proud of what you’ve accomplished and what you can offer. Confidence looks good on everyone. You’ll stand up taller, look people in the eye, and wind up engaging more with others.
Ok, so your mom may have given you this advice, too, but it’s right on the money. Smiling goes a long way when it comes to networking. People would rather talk to someone that looks open and friendly, so even if you’re not having the best time, avoid RBF (yes, we really referenced that) and think about something that makes you happy.
DO exchange information. (Then follow up!)
All that smiling will surely lead to conversations. Bring your business card, and, before parting ways with new people, be sure to exchange information, then send an email the next day. If you feel like you made a connection, suggest coffee or lunch. In these days of superficial social media connections, an actual email—then an in-person meeting—is memorable and can lead to great things.
DON’T stare at your phone all night.
No matter how awkward you feel, resist the urge to hide behind your phone at networking events. We know it’s a safety net and we all do it from time to time. But no one approaches someone engrossed in their newsfeed. Instead, walk around. Look for conversations to join or a friendly face to greet.
DON’T be a wallflower. (No matter how much it hurts!)
Speaking of not staring at your phone, try your very best, even if it feels like it’s going to kill you, not to be a wallflower. This can be especially challenging at events where you don’t know anyone. But the cool thing about networking is that you already have common ground. After all, you’re at the same event, which leads us to…
DON’T forget to ask questions. (And listen to the answers!)
Dale Carnegie knew it when he wrote the ultimate networking book in 1936: The fastest, surest way to make real, meaningful connections with others is to become genuinely interested in them. That means asking questions, and, more importantly, listening.
DON’T think of it as networking.
If the idea of networking makes you nervous—or makes you shudder—don’t think of it as networking. Think of it as making friends in the industry. Because, at its core, that’s what networking really is. It’s meeting people and building relationships.
DON’T expect immediate results.
You may be chomping at the bit to get a new job, break into a new field, or get new clients, but it’s important to set reasonable expectations. A single networking event probably won’t yield major results, but, as your mom also may have told you (they’re full of the best advice, after all), Rome wasn’t built in a day. And professional relationships take time to develop. Go to a few, then a few more, and things will start happening.
DON’T beat yourself up.
If you were a wallflower or got nervous or didn’t ask the right questions or feel like you didn’t say the right thing, it’s totally ok! Don’t beat yourself up. The great thing about networking events is that there’s always more of them. So learn from your mistakes (but don’t forget to celebrate your achievements!) and vow to do better next time.