Not too long ago, I attended an in-person event at a middle school—an honor society induction ceremony. The principal began by asking the audience to have patience because “after a couple of years of not doing this, we’re a little rusty.” What a relatable statement! In the same way the teachers, students, and staff were out of practice on having in-person events, many people might be rusty on networking protocols and etiquette. Here are some practical networking tips to help you as you manage your career or engage in a job search campaign.
Networking Tips for In-Person and Virtual Events
- Dress for the occasion. If you’re meeting in person, dress appropriately—which usually means business casual. If it’s a Zoom meeting, don’t be complacent. Recently, a person I met with on Zoom was visibly surprised when she saw me and asked, “Why do you look so good?!?” I can assure you that I didn’t look that good, but I did dress as if we were meeting in person.
- Consider your shoes. This tip seems mundane, but if you work from home like I do, you may hardly ever have to wear shoes during the day—so you may think about them less in general. Consider which shoes you wear to in-person networking events; for instance, I have shoes that I can wear all day and others that I can only wear comfortably for a couple of hours. By remembering this networking tip, you’ll ensure your feet don’t suffer!
- Consider the perspective of the person you’re networking with. What is their background? What do they know? Are they younger or older than you? Are they a big-picture visionary or an in-the-weeds pragmatist? Consider them before you speak and tailor your approach accordingly.
Food and Drink
- Ivan Misner, the founder of the referral networking organization BNI, has written that it’s not netSIT or netEAT but netWORK. When you are at a networking event with food and drinks, the refreshments should not be the main attraction.
- Have food OR a beverage one at a time so you can always have a hand free to shake hands or exchange business cards. Alternately, if you want to have both your food and drink at the same time, step aside from everyone else, eat your meal, and then get back to networking as soon as you can.
- Keep alcohol to a minimum. This is true for virtual networking meetings, too. If you do drink, I recommend sticking to wine or beer. Remember, networking events are first and foremost to meet people and build relationships.
- Begin networking conversations already knowing what you want the person to learn about you. Networking is not for meandering conversations that have no point.
- Make sure you stay on topic, but don’t sound rehearsed. It’s a conversation, not an audition. Memorized elevator pitches often sound inauthentic.
- When talking with someone, show genuine interest in what the person does. Job seekers can consider asking questions about what the person likes best about their work, what advice they have to share, and why they chose the field. For business-owner-to-business-owner conversations, questions can focus on what a good referral looks like and what the person specializes in.
- You have two ears and one mouth; use them proportionately. Listen to learn and absorb information, not just to jump in at the first moment you can interject and share your thoughts.
- Be concise. It should not take you several minutes to explain what you do or are interested in. Make sure everything you say is relevant to the topic at hand.
- To build the relationship, establish next steps for following up.
- Follow through on what you say you will do. Applying this networking tip will set you apart from most people.
- After having a networking conversation, follow up with a succinct, thoughtful, and well-written email.
Networking can be an enjoyable experience—even for reluctant networkers. The key is being prepared! By using these networking tips, you can go in confident knowing you’re ready and able to focus on the conversation at hand.