University of Minnesota career advisor Maggie Kubak offered some valuable tips recently at the Boreas Leadership Program's first networking session of the spring semester.
Kubak started by noting that the word "networking" has some bad connotations, evoking visions of creating conversations and connections for personal gain. But, she said, that's not what it's all about. Rather, it's getting to know people - people who might be able to help you, yes, but people you might be able to help, too. It's about meeting friends you haven't met yet, making others feel welcome and valued, and giving them a chance to make you feel welcome and valued as well.
To start things off on the right foot in a networking situation, Kubak recommended keeping three things in mind: Who are you connecting with? What is the setting? What is your objective? Sometimes you're just passing time before a program begins. Other times, you're wanting to meet key people in your field who may play an important role in your career. The answer to those questions will guide your approach.
Small talk is an important part of networking, Kubak said. It helps people get comfortable around each other and provides them an opportunity to get to know each other. Some "small-talking" tips, adapted from CareerBuilder.com:
1. As you prepare for a function, come up with three things to talk about and four generic questions that will get others talking.
2. Be the first to say hello. If you've met before but you're not sure the other person will remember you, introduce yourself.
3. Take your time. Make a point to remember names, and use them frequently.
4. Get the other person talking by leading with a statement about something you have in common - perhaps the event or location - and then ask a related open-ended question.
5. Stay focused on your conversational partner by actively listening and giving feedback.
6. Listen more than you talk.
7. Have something interesting to contribute. Keeping abreast of current events and culture helps. Ask questions like, "What do you think of ... ?" "Have you heard ... ?"
8. If there are specific people you want to meet, ask someone to introduce you.
9. Watch your body language.
10. If you'd like to join a conversation that's already in progress, observe and listen for a good time before you jump in.
Kubak also offered some special advice on relationship-building for introverts:
• Start with email instead of phone call.
• Be patient; think long-term gain.
• Pace yourself so you don't burn out.
• Keep at it so you're recognized.
• Find and connect with key people who can connect you with many contacts.
• Arrive early at a gathering, before clusters form.
How do you exit a conversation gracefully when the other person is getting restless or you need to move on? Kubak suggested having some lines ready: "I need to check in with a client over there." "I skipped lunch today, so I need to visit the buffet." "I have a meeting with a colleague soon so need to say goodbye." Always end with thanks and a comment tailored to your conversation.
Looking for some great networking opportunities and other tools to hone your leadership skills? Check out IonE's Boreas Leadership Program.
Now if you'll excuse me ... I skipped lunch today and need to visit the buffet.
Image courtesy of Koreshky via Wikimedia Commons