We all know networking is very important, the common phrase – “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I would go one step further, it’s also – “Who knows you”, that is, if someone is thinking about hiring someone, or a new opportunity, or a speaking engagement – will they think of you?
They key to networking is being able to maintain real relationships with people. Too many people go to conferences and events and hand out business cards to random people, or add random people on LinkedIn with little thought. That is not networking – what you’ve done is just made a weak connection with someone, but it likely won’t help you in the future.
Ok, so what’s best way to network and stay in touch with people:
Be productive with your networking – quality over quantity. When you meet someone, try to actually listen to them and get to know them. Ask them questions about their job, their interests, or their family (don’t get too personal, though).
- Remember information. Once you meet someone – write down that information somewhere (e.g.: Google contacts, or other application) so you can remember those details later (e.g.: they went to UVA, from Georgia, likes skiing, etc.). If in six months you meet them again, they’ll be amazed that you remembered these facts.
- Be interesting. Also, make sure to tell people about you and your interests. The meeting should be an exchange of mutual interest. If you are looking for something specific – try to discretely tell them. They may meet 50 people, and if you have a funny story or interesting background, they’ll remember you.
If you are a student – ask them for advice on something, or if you are looking for a job, tell them you are in the market. Be careful here – don’t specifically ask them for a job or be too aggressive – that’s a big turn-off and seem like you are being too transactional. They key really is to build an initial relationship, and then you can set something up later like an informational call or other meeting later
Be genuine. The key here is not to just spit back facts or information to someone, that would be weird. With networking, you are trying to learn from people’s experiences to help you in your career – maybe investment banking wasn’t for me, maybe I should go down this path in medicine, maybe I should talk to this VP about “x or y”, etc.
Stay in touch – Out of Sight, Out of Mind. I would argue there’s four ways to stay in touch:
- Social Media (like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) You should try and post articles, or share information on a weekly or monthly basis so your feed stays active. Your followers will see your information and remember you. Not all of your content has to be ‘new’, it could be just your thoughts on something or things you are working on.
- The second is general conferences, meetings, or other networking events where you run into people in a social setting. Attend these events and you’ll keep in touch with your old network and build new colleagues as well. Set a goal for yourself (like 1 conference a year, 2 networking events a quarter) and stick to it.
- The third option is one-on-one coffee, lunch, happy hour meetings with a person. This is probably reserved for those you really want to build a strong relationship with. In reality, these people are/will become your friends. They are likely to help you the most in a future job search or just generally for advice on your career.
- Fourth option is just sending emails 1x every six months to check-in with someone, or calling someone every few months. This can be helpful if the person is in a different city. You can give them an update on what’s going, or ask them their advice on a particular issue. But, be careful – millennials like to email too much – there is no substitute for meeting in person. If you live in the same city, meet them in person.
And finally, make sure to thank people and let them know how it went. People like to know they’ve made some small (or large) difference. Keep in touch and let them know how their advice helped. This acknowledgment is very important! Without this follow through, your relationship building could come to naught and drifts into indifference.