Networking is a bit of an art form, and there are many ways to go about it. Some people prefer to cast a wide net, while others focus on a smaller circle of close contacts. You can choose from meeting new people face-to-face, connecting online, or a combination of the two. As you gain experience with networking, you’ll find the approach that you like best.
There aren’t a lot of hard-and-fast rules for networking, but following some guidelines can set you up for success.
Do: Introduce yourself
If you’re networking in person, walk up to someone new and say hi. Online, you might send a LinkedIn connection request, tweet, or send an email.
Start by telling them your name and why you want to connect with them. For example, you could say, “I’m new to Minneapolis and I’d like to meet more people in the industry here.” You could also share a few details of your current role or tell them what you did previously.
Do: Be authentic
Talk about topics that genuinely interest you, and be open about your goals and aspirations. You may find that other professionals in your network can offer tips and support. For example, suppose you’re currently an assistant operations manager but you dream of becoming a sommelier. You might meet someone who has certification or who can introduce you to colleagues at a vineyard.
Do: Look for shared interests
For each person you meet, try to identify an interest or experience you have in common. You can use that topic as a jumping-off point for a deeper discussion. By zeroing in on subjects you and the other person are both passionate about, you’re more likely to have conversations that are engaging and productive.
Practice active listening when you network. Put away your phone at in-person events, and give the person you’re talking to your full attention. Ask open-ended questions.
Make a note of any significant news that people share, and follow up with them when it makes sense. For instance, if someone says they’re in line for a promotion, you might check their LinkedIn profile in a few weeks and congratulate them when they get a new position.
Do: Nurture relationships
Relationships grow naturally when you build them over time through small, enjoyable interactions. Aim to touch base with your contacts at least four times a year. You might see them at industry events or have coffee with them, or you could email, call on the phone, or catch up over Zoom. It’s okay if you sometimes exchange a few short, friendly messages rather than having a longer dialogue. Just make sure you’re doing something more than clicking “like” on a social media post, which the other person might not notice.
Don’t: Spam people
It’s usually pretty obvious when somebody sends a mass email blast to their entire contacts list or the same message to all their connections on LinkedIn. Most people will delete generic missives like that, and some may even block you.
Instead of spamming everyone you know, look through your contacts and choose the top five to fifteen people who are most likely to be interested in what you want to say this time. Then send a personalized message to each one. This takes longer, but it’s worth spending a few extra minutes to avoid aggravating your whole network.
Don’t: Ask for a job right away
Asking someone for a job immediately after you meet or as soon as they accept your LinkedIn connection will probably just result in them directing you to their company’s careers page. If you want them to advocate for your hiring or to help you out with the application process, you need to build a relationship with them first. This is one reason it’s best to start networking sooner rather than later so that if you’re job searching at some point in the future, you will already have those relationships in place.
Don’t: Complain relentlessly
If you absolutely hate your current employer and are eager to find a new job, your instinct might be to vent to your network. But griping through a networking mixer or writing disgruntled posts on LinkedIn can be off-putting to others. You want people to picture you as a possible addition to their teams who would be happy and thrive at work, and they may not see you in that light if you continually air grievances.
Instead of broadcasting why your current role doesn’t suit you, focus on sharing where you want your career to go. It’s okay to divulge a negative opinion if someone asks about your experience (for example, because they’re considering an offer from your employer and they need to weigh the pros and cons) but try not to spring a lot of negative information on anyone unprompted.
Don’t: Ignore people who reach out
If you don’t reply when people in your network call or email, you will miss opportunities to get to know them better. Plus, they might be less eager to help when you ask them for a favor.
It’s okay if you aren’t able to get back to everyone instantly, but you want to make sure their messages don’t get lost in the shuffle. Set an alert on your phone or pin their emails to the top of your inbox to remind yourself to respond within a few days.
Don’t: Pester people who don’t want to connect
Try not to take it personally if someone isn’t interested in networking with you. There are so many people out there; it’s inevitable that a few won’t be friendly or will be preoccupied. When you encounter someone who isn’t receptive, just move on and reach out to others who want to connect with you. Don’t badger anyone in the hopes of changing their mind; that basically never works.
Watch for signs that someone isn’t willing to interact. In-person, these include avoiding eye contact, responding to all questions with only “yes” or “no,” or quickly making an excuse to walk away. Online, someone who repeatedly fails to respond to messages or who ignores connection requests is probably not open to a conversation right now.