Networking. Some people call it a guaranteed way to meet influencers in your industry. Others believe it’s the best way to market your skills, brand and accomplishments.
You may dread networking and try to avoid at it at all costs. Unfortunately for you, networking is still considered one of the top techniques not only to sell yourself, but also to land new opportunities, projects and jobs.
But there’s a key to networking success that many people don’t talk about: knowing how to conduct yourself in different situations. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)
While handing out business cards may work wonders for you at a designated networking event, the same strategy might not work in a different atmosphere. Is there a way to know what’s going to work and what’s going to fail?
Let’s look at a few common — and some not-so-common — networking scenarios and review what your plan of action should be in each situation.
1. Work events
Work events come in all shapes and sizes, from professional development courses to off-site meetings with colleagues. These events tend to be more formal and not a place where you should directly whip out your networking skills, mostly because there’s a specific purpose for the event.
How to play it: Although you may know most people at a work event, you can subtly network by bringing up recent accomplishments or hurdles you’ve jumped. This helps people in your internal network see where you shine, and where you can help them — or someone else — in the future.
Conferences are a great way to meet those awesome connections who can help you expand your network. Sometimes the premise of a conference is entirely centered around networking. Other conferences are developed for you to learn more about your industry by listening to speakers, taking classes and meeting those with similar professional interests.
How to play it: This is one of those obvious networking situations where you’ll need lots of business cards, copies of your resume, portfolio items, etc. Since there will be a plethora of industry members, you never know who you’ll run into. It could also be a good idea to refresh your LinkedIn profile before the event so that once you connect with people you meet at the conference, they’ll see your most updated information.
3. Office parties
Events like the annual holiday party or your boss’s birthday don’t usually scream “networking.” Oftentimes, you may be too busy socializing or talking about your personal life to think about business. While these are still great conversation starters, office parties can be an awesome place to reiterate why you’re a rockstar.
How to play it: Put the alcohol down and get to know colleagues you don’t know too well, especially those in different departments. You don’t have to brag about your accomplishments, but you can weave in your expertise. Chances are, one day they may need your skills on a project. Be memorable and show what you can do for them.
4. Family events
You probably believe family events are the last place to whip out your resume and market yourself, but these events are a networking goldmine. Think about it. Your family wants you to do well in your career. It’s like preaching to the choir. You just have to know what songs to sing.
How to play it: While members of your family may not work in your industry, they may know someone who does. That’s why it’s advisable to speed network, or chat with as many people as possible at your annual family reunion about what you do. Hand out business cards if you need to. If one of their contacts needs someone with your skills, you’ll be the first person on their radar.
5. Running errands
Picture this: You’re at the grocery store when you see an influential member of your industry. You don’t want to throw business cards at them, but you do want to make a connection. How do you approach a power player without throwing your milk on the ground and seeming too desperate?
How to play it: Introduce yourself and relay why you admire them. Try to mention a recent article they wrote or compliment them on a recent accomplishment. Then, close quickly by asking if you can sit down with them or connect on a social network. This opens the door to future conversations while downplaying what could have been an awkward situation.
The ability to market yourself in any given situation is a skill that needs to be honed and practiced. You never know who you’ll bump into and how they could help you out in the future. Look at every situation as a chance to boost your network and provide a possible stepping stone for your career.
What do you think? How else can you market yourself in any given situation?
Lynn Dixon is the co-founder and COO of Hourly.com, an employment network that quickly matches people who are interested in flexible positions with the right opportunities. Connect with Lynn and Hourly on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
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