A couple of times a year, I conduct a networking workshop for the Unemployed Professionals Group at the Career Center in Portland, Maine. Before I start with the nuts and bolts of networking, I ask the group: "Have you determined what area you'd like to work in and how your skills match the needs of those positions?"
That's the first step. What do you want to do and does your experience match what you want? If you know, if it's a match and if you're truly passionate about it, the rest is simple. Now you just have to tell people you're available!
Networking is as simple as asking people what they do, presenting yourself well, and being helpful in return. The best place to do that is at a networking event. These are hosted by trade groups, professional groups and community business organizations, so businesspeople can easily find out how others can help them.
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You'll find that most businesspeople are very helpful. Most of them have advanced in their careers via networking and like the idea of passing along their knowledge. It's a basic business tactic and certainly nothing you should be nervous about. When you're attending a networking event, follow these tips:
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- Know who will be attending the event. You can get a list of attendees from the sponsoring organization. This helps you plan to talk to specific people you'd like to meet.
- Arrive early. You want as much time to network as possible, of course, but arriving early gets you into contact with the event organizers and other early arrivers. It's a chance to meet people before the room becomes too crowded.
- Dress appropriately. Dress as though you're at a job interview, even if the event is supposed to be casual.
- Bring lots of business cards. I carry at least 50 cards for every networking event; after all, someone might like to take several to pass along to others in their company.
- Develop a personal 30-second "commercial" that communicates your unique knowledge and expertise to others. I like to call this a 'Verbal Business Card". This should consist of a couple of sentences about results you have achieved in the past and how you were able to accomplish those results.
- Spend most of your time with people you don't know. It's tempting to stay within your comfort zone, especially when it's a new experience for you. However, remember that you're there to do business, not socialize.
- Learn about other people before you start talking about yourself. Develop a few basic questions that will draw people out; then be a good listener. You can discover a great deal about your future career by listening to others.
- Offer to help others. End conversations by asking, "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
- Be approachable. No matter how nervous you feel, act as though you're calm and having fun. People will naturally be attracted to you.
- Follow through on your commitments. No matter how small the promise, your reputation is dependent on keeping it. And there's nothing like having people owe you favors to further your job hunt!
Remember, a networking event is not an occasion to sell yourself or to be interviewed. It's an opportunity to meet some neat people and to be friendly, approachable and helpful, so that someone asks you to follow up tomorrow for an interview. Good luck!
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