You get invited to an event: a wedding, a fraternity party, a business launch, a baseball game, an industry event, or even a high school dance. Your number one goal should probably be to have a great time, but following closely behind is the goal of successfully networking. (That’s right, you should have networking in mind as early as high school, and maybe sooner.) It’s with this second goal that so many of us miss the mark. Where do we go wrong?
For one thing, some of us get confused about why we network in the first place. Some people are doing it because some successful person told them to, many do it with only their newest business venture in mind, and others network because they are trying to get ahead. None of these reasons are wrong or bad, but they are not optimal as overarching networking philosophies.
When you set out to make connections, it’s best to come from a place of genuine interest in what others are pursuing, creating or developing. See it more for its possibilities of a meeting of the minds, the exchange of ideas, successful collaborations, gaining a golfing/dancing/basketball/fishing/shopping buddy, or the start of a lasting friendship. If you make an acquaintance with someone with whom you would like to keep in touch, make note (on the back of their business card or in your smartphone) of how you may be able to work together in the near or distant future. That means consider how you may be of assistance to them, along with how they may serve as a good resource to you. It is an exchange, not a way to get the “hook-up” or build a one-sided relationship.
How do you build this type of relationship? To start, confidently introduce yourself as who you are and who you are aspiring to become. In conversation, be open to listening to what they have to say, ask questions related to what they seem passionate about, and share with them some of your interests and passions. Exchange information and after the event, contact the person within two to three days to remind them who you are and how you met. Invite the person out to grab a bite to eat and use it as an opportunity to learn more about them. A great tip I once received for maintaining what you’ve started is to reach out to the person every few months and on holidays, invite them out if you have an extra ticket to something you think they would enjoy, and keep them updated on your major developments or changes (new contact information, getting into college, a new job or promotion, getting married, having a baby, etc.). This way you keep each other in the loop and atop the mind.
So you see, it more than taking someone’s business card or storing a Twitter handle in your phone and tucking it away until you need something from that person. It is about making the connection meaningful for both or all parties involved. Furthermore, it is about growing your network to grow your career, but also yourself.