After you’ve built up a sizable network, it’s time to take it offline. Recently I’ve been out and about touring some universities to speak to students about networking online. We know that in the competitive workplace, networking can give you the edge. However if you’re new to the workplace, have few professional contacts so far and are not sure who to connect with, it can seem very daunting. Following on from my social media job-hunt sessions and taking into account the great questions and feedback I’ve heard from some extremely talented students, I’ve put together a four part series exploring networking from the basics to leveraging your contacts professionally.
The thing with all this online networking is that it does rather feed an appetite to meet in person. This is a good thing – frequently social media is described as being, in fact, anti-social, encouraging people to simply sit behind their screens rather than actually socialise.
But the more seasoned tweeters and LinkedIn lovers among us know this is simply not the case. If anything, twitter and other social networks open the doors and reveal opportunities which previously may have not have been possible, but they are not the whole relationship – indeed, we wouldn’t expect you to meet an employer on BraveNewTalent and skip the interview before being hired.
When you cement the relationships you have made online by meeting up face-to-face, you are honing your offline networking skills and it’s not hard to find opportunities for this.
- Use your networks – see what hashtags the people you follow are using. Conference hashtags are a must for any self-respecting event these days, and even if the conference is not free to attend (still common but in decline) there is often a ‘tweet up’ (Twitter meet up) for those who couldn’t make the whole thing to go to afterwards – usually in addition to or instead of a drinks reception. Other than that, in a similar way to Facebook events, some groups of contacts will start a hashtag for a meet up.
- Join Meetup.com and Lanyrd. These sites are invaluable for finding events and then working out who is going from your circle so you can maximise your networking. Meetup is more casual and you will find plenty of things of interest on there – if you choose to get involved and contribute to the communities there you’ll be bound to make friends and contacts. These are all based around taking the online offline and connect with your other social networks. I’ve been using it to connect with fellow community managers.
Preparing for the event
See the guest list – perhaps on EventBrite, twtvite, or Meetup.com. Investigate the people on it and see if there are any people going you don’t already know. Consider following them and adding them to your network beforehand and perhaps drop them a quick line: “I notice you are going to this event, am hoping to connect in person there but thought I’d say hi now as well!” It’s not difficult but it is effective. Believe it or not, very few people do this, especially those who aren’t in sales. You aren’t selling anything other than an opportunity to meet up and discover if there is any mutual value from the connection – from a work interest to a social connection, to a job opening. All of these have value.
At the event
The good news is that often people have name badges and are expecting to meet other people. The key thing here is to be authentic. You will build lasting relationships by being you.
Try to make sure you meet as many people as possible and never ask for something straight out. Instead, ask them questions. It’s often said that ‘So what do you do?’ is an awful opening, but in fact, it’s something you need to ask – but of course think of different ways of asking this. Why not say ‘What brings you here?’. Find out what they do, ask some questions about their business and field.
At some point they will ask you what you are doing. At this point, if you are unemployed, it may be more appropriate to explain what you have been doing recently – your studying or last position before going to to explain you are looking for opportunities, if you think this will be well received. But do know what you are looking for.
Even recruiters find it difficult if you ‘literally have no idea’ what you want to do. At least have some clues to give them, and who knows – you may get some advice, even a work experience placement or maybe you just made a friend for life.
Pro tip: have some attractive Moo cards made up with your name, number and email and give them to people as business cards.
After the event
If you really want to stand out, follow up on connections and business cards. Say hello, lovely to meet you, and remind them of what you chatted about. If you think you will have difficulty remembering, carry a pen and jot down something to follow up with personally on their card, if you manage to get one: or use a smartphone app like cardmunch (a LinkedIn application) where you can photograph their card and add notes – an ideal opportunity to jot down any follow up ideas.
You’re ready to go out and show the world your best side. Good luck!
The series: Online Networking