When you hear the term “networking event,” you probably think of career fairs, alumni dinners, and professional conferences. But as it turns out, concerts, aeroplanes, or even the checkout line at Whole Foods can be equally suitable places to build your network.
That’s right: the savviest professionals are able to strike up conversations with strangers almost anywhere and turn those encounters into networking opportunities. Here’s how:
1. Know what you want.
When you first introduce yourself to someone, it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for in a career or you won’t be able to concisely convey it when the topic comes up.
Rod Adams, the U.S. recruiting leader for PwC, recommends practicing your elevator pitch so you can clearly demonstrate what matters most to you at the drop of a hat. “Know what you want to share about you as an individual, what motivates you, what your strengths are, what you do, and how you do it,” he says. It’s all about understanding your personal brand.
2. Take advantage of unconventional places.
Any place where you would normally meet people and start conversations has the potential to become a networking opportunity. And don’t overlook places where you might not always think to strike up a conversation. For instance, aeroplanes provide an ideal opportunity to get to know someone as you sit side-by-side for an extended period of time, Adams says.
Unconventional places also give you the advantage of not competing with others trying to network at the same time. “You’ve got the full attention of someone’s ear,” Adams says. “It could be a way to distinguish yourself if you do it right.”
3. Mind your first impression.
“Pick your opportunities wisely,” Adams says. “Make sure the version of yourself that you’re putting forth in an unconventional place is the impression you want someone to get.” If you’re not displaying your most professional self and realise it’s too late to make a great first impression, move on. There will be other opportunities where you can put your best foot forward.
4. Ask questions.
Don’t center the entire conversation around yourself and your career. Instead, ask questions to get to know the other person, as well. Starting a dialogue fosters a relationship much better than simply presenting your verbal resume. Plus, asking questions makes you more memorable, Adams says. “People enjoy telling their story and sharing information.”
When it’s someone you’ve never met before, Adams suggests asking what field they’re in, what specific work they do, and how they decided on their chosen career path. Understanding someone else’s career choices can provide valuable insight when forging your own.
Even the greatest conversations go nowhere if you don’t maintain the relationship. If you remember, ask for the person’s email address or phone number before parting ways, and follow-up later that week. If you don’t end up with any contact information, you can always look them up on LinkedIn and connect online, Adams advises.
“Just go for it,” Adams says. Though he warns that it will be uncomfortable at first, practice is the only way to perfect your elevator pitch, home in on the best questions to ask, and become comfortable talking to new people. And the more people you meet, the better you’ll be at networking, which will ultimately help your career.
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