Networking can be a daunting task but by following a few key tips you can start to demystify the process. First and foremost, treat everyone the same. According to Kat Haney Woods, Small Business Liaison from the State of North Carolina Department of Administration, “I try to treat everyone everyday like a rock star.” Kat’s career path has involved many career changes as well as life changes (personally and professionally), including serving in roles like: Political Consultant, Interior Designer, Volunteer Director, Wedding Industry Consultant, Communication Specialist, Membership Coordinator, Web Consultant, and Public Relations Representative. Branding and marketing yourself boldly means getting to know your audience, listening and staying resilient in the face of everyday and life setbacks.
Whether you’re introducing yourself to the receptionist, the manager of a company, or the Governor himself, you should be composing yourself in the same exact manner. For the individuals that are higher up in the corporate hierarchy, it will make them feel more at ease and comfortable that you can relate to them confidently and positively. For those that may hold a lesser title, it will build them up, help them relate to you, and make them feel respected. You never know whom exactly you’re standing next to in line for your coffee so never treat others poorly because you’re in a bad mood or in a hurry. Ms. Haney Woods’ secret is to focus on a passion you have or that they have and just go with that excitement in speaking to them or, more importantly, listening to them.
When you’re talking to someone new, the goal is to be relatable and not seem like you have “an agenda” that you need to get across. Don’t approach a person about their hunting trip the weekend before because you stalked them on their Facebook, however it is okay to make the connection if you can reference it from reviewing their profile on LinkedIn. “Make connections and knowledge naturally,” Ms. Haney Woods suggests. “Don’t just grasp for anything when making small talk, instead make small talk about something of genuine interest to you or something timely. Small talk is just an icebreaker, so you don’t have to be brilliant.”
Remember to bring a business mindset to every networking event. Ms. Haney Woods: “I treat networking like I do an interview. I research who will be at a meeting, what they might ask me and I dress as if I am interviewing with them for a job I really want.” So in networking Kat suggests that you need to take the initiative. “Always make the ask” and don’t be scared to ask for what you want. You can ask for a lot with a smile on your face. She adds: “Even if you are not in sales you need to continue to ask for advice, help, resources and more during your career. ‘Making The Ask’ comes from the political world where we are constantly asking for money from donors. You shouldn’t get discouraged if someone is not receptive, at that time, on that day – just know that the answer may be different in the future.” Even if your last experience was horrible and you had the door slammed in your face, try again. When you ask for favors, the response can be circumstantial. You don’t know what happened to that person earlier in the day; so don’t be afraid to extend yourself again further down the road.
Lastly, tune up your “elevator pitch.” You’re selling yourself several times a day whether you realize it or not and regardless of the background you may or may not possess in sales, you need to hone in on those skills. Even if you are not in sales you’re pitching and convincing people all day long – your kids, other kids, adults, professionals, acquaintances, friends…to do something! Are you in a career search or career progression? Be able to favorably sum yourself up in less than 30 seconds as well as address which direction you want to take your professional growth. Touch on the strength of your foundation, your superpowers so to speak and how transferable your skills can be for that industry, the opportunity you seek or even that person who may need you. Geer your pitch but make the ask!
A big part of the career search is not necessarily what you know but who you know. It’s also about who knows you or may want to know you. Utilize these tips and start making the connections to land your next big win.