Anyone can be an effective networker, but it may take a little practice. As with other types of relationship-building, there are steps you can take to help the process along — and other actions that can make the task more difficult.
Try these dos and don’ts culled from networking experts and our recent poll of administrative professionals:
Do: Practice your “pitch.”
You will inevitably be asked what you do or who you work for, and having a compelling answer prepared will help you make a good impression. Tailor your introduction to the event you’re attending: For example, if you’re going to a mixer for administrative professionals, focus on your key responsibilities; if you’re promoting your company’s product at a trade show, prepare to briefly describe what makes it unique.
Don’t: Overly promote yourself.
It’s OK to put a positive spin on your role, but take care not to come off as boastful. Practice your pitch on a friend or co-worker to see how it sounds. Naturally, you should use extra discretion if you’re representing your company: When you’re manning a booth at a tradeshow, for instance, it probably isn’t the best time to market yourself for new job opportunities.
Do: Prepare simple talking points.
Even the most social people can run into awkward silences when making small talk, which is why you should have conversational tidbits at the ready. You might bring up the day’s big news story, or, if you’re at a conference, ask which sessions someone is most looking forward to. This can make for a lively discussion — and get new acquaintances to ask you questions.
Don’t: Stick to a script.
There’s a difference between being prepared and being a robot. Don’t disrupt the flow of conversation to try to work in a pre-planned talking point. Instead, look for opportunities to pick up on what a new acquaintance has said. Listening is key to successful networking, since it can help you learn how you might help someone and how they might help you.
Do: Show up early.
Arriving ahead of the crowd gives you a chance to find conversation partners before they’ve formed groups. This saves you from having to ask to join in — which can be challenging if you’re shy. You may also have more time for one-on-one conversations that lead to meaningful contacts.
Don’t: Rush out the door.
Your instinct may be to leave an event as soon as it’s winding down. But, that’s actually when some of the best networking opportunities arise. Sticking around can give you a chance to talk with people you didn’t have a chance to approach earlier, or to wrap up conversations with new contacts.
Do: Aim to be helpful.
Look for opportunities to share your expertise, provide a recommendation or make an introduction. Even small helpful gestures can make you more memorable — and motivate people to offer their assistance in return.
Don’t: Expect immediate payback.
Networking is about building relationships, and that takes time. Even if the help you give isn’t reciprocated right away, good deeds tend to go around —and you’ll likely be on the receiving end at some point.
Do: Follow up.
You’ve made a few new contacts — great! Now comes the critical task of building these relationships. Follow up shortly after an event, while conversations are still fresh. Invite new acquaintances to connect on LinkedIn. If you said you’d provide certain information or make an introduction, be sure to follow through.
Don’t: Let promising connections fade.
When you’re juggling your day-to-day tasks, it can be easy to put off crafting emails to people you met a while back. But, it’s often worth making time to keep these relationships alive. Just sending a short, friendly note every couple of months or sharing a relevant article can keep you on a contact’s radar. Consider using an online calendar for scheduling these check-ins.