All right folks, let’s talk about this thing called “networking”. First, what is networking? Business networking is formally defined as, “a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded business people recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.” Some of you may be thinking, “huh?” I totally understand why this definition would confuse some of you. I think that the definition does a fine job of explaining the overall goal of networking, but I think it gives a false idea of what networking really is.
Networking shouldn’t be thought of as this big, intimidating thing that should stress you out. Not every networking event is a career fair or trade show that requires professional dress, resumes, and business cards (These are important types of networking events though). The truth is that most networking opportunities aren’t events at all; they are continuous and happen to us every day. An ordinary occurrence sometimes has the potential to turn into a business opportunity.
Here is an example of what I mean: Say you are walking down the street and you see a gentleman drop his keys. You promptly pick up his dropped item and return it to him. The two of you are heading in the same direction, so you strike up a conversation and learn that he is an executive in the company you have been applying to! You trade contact information and head your separate ways.
Now, this is an extreme exaggeration of what could actually take place, but the point I’m trying to make is that you should always be on the lookout for networking opportunities, and always be prepared. If an opportunity presents itself don’t hesitate to spring into action; ambition is a desirable characteristic inside a company.
This brings me to my next point, have an elevator speech prepared! An elevator speech is a short speech about yourself that should describe who you are, what you’ve done, and what you want to do. This speech should last about as long as it would take to ride an elevator a few floors: hence the name. This sounds like a feat in itself, but if you practice your elevator speech frequently you will be ready to give it at a moments notice. If the speech went over well and you feel confident enough to take it to the next step, then ask for the card! It’d be a shame to have an awesome elevator speech, impress the individual, and then not have a way to get into contact with them later.
If you develop this style of approach to networking then you will undoubtedly see an increase in the number of professional contacts you have available. Networks do not remain static! Networks either strengthen or weaken with time, but they do not remain the same. Professional relationships are similar to other relationships because they must be nurtured or they will weaken. Take the time to reach out every now and again to strengthen these relationships; give them a phone call (if you deem it appropriate), send a handwritten note, or get up with the person on LinkedIn.
I used to work at a car dealership as a marketing intern about a year and a half ago. It was a good job and my boss and I got along really well, but due to unforeseen circumstances I had to end my internship early. After leaving the dealership I continued to keep in touch with him and talk about a variety of different things. Every now and then he would approach me for help with a promotion that the dealership was putting on and I’d help out. Just this past weekend I was working with him at a rodeo out in Williamston and we had a chance to catch up. I was telling him about how I was searching for a job in advertising and he told me that his wife is a partner at an ad agency in New Bern. He said she was looking for a new assistant and told me to send him my updated resume. That is one heck of an opportunity right there and I would have never unearthed it if I hadn’t networked every day.