Aside from your actual abilities, the next most powerful professional tool is your professional network. Virtually all of your career goals are made possible in one way or another through your relationships. Therefore, the earlier you devote energy towards maintaining, expanding and utilizing your network, the more stability, mobility, security and prosperity you will have in your career. It really is about “who you know.”
This principle rings especially true during your search for permanent employment or internships. Utilizing and expanding your existing network will likely lead to the discovery of internship, temporary, and permanent positions. The people within your network have their own information and relationships, either of which may open a new door. In addition, there may be people in your network that have the ability to hire you or recommend that you be hired. Networking events are a great tool for exploring the benefits of your professional relationships.
First, you must see these events for what they really are—that is, an opportunity to get some brief face time with someone who shares a common interest and, by virtue of their attending the event also, has demonstrated openness to meeting new people. That is all. It is simply a time to plant seeds for the future.
Here are three-steps to making sure the seeds you are planting at Networking events bloom into career success:
Step 1: Research. Before the networking event, research the topic/cause, recent trends, changes, news or anything else relevant to the reason why people are congregating. Do your best to be a well-informed attendee with the ability to spark and lead a conversation. Also, to the extent possible, research who else will be attending the event. Research the speakers, panelists, hosts and/or attendees. Try to know beforehand which attendees may be a good contact for you and prepare conversation topics for when you have the opportunity to speak with them.
Step 2: Connect. While attending the networking event, introduce yourself and engage in conversations with different people. Be the first to say “hello.” Be open, engaging but not over-eager. Try not to get locked into one conversation the entire time. But also don’t float around like a politician. The goal should be to connect with people (hopefully valuable contacts) about substantive, professional topics. Be yourself. Be personable. Be a good listener. Try to open the door to future interactions. Ask them for their business card/contact information so you can control the follow up after the event.
Step 3: Follow up. If you connect with someone in a positive way, you have now added a new contact to your network. This is just the beginning. Make sure to water that seed by following up and asking for any connections or assistance they may be able to provide.