Whether you’re a job seeker, business professional, or simply open to something new, this is a three-part series that provides best practices for beginners learning how to network.
If you’re new to networking, the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and starting conversations with people you do not know can be overwhelming. Networking, however, does not have to be a chore. If you go in with an open mind, it can lead to meeting new friends, learning about new industries or ideas, and even finding new business or career opportunities. While networking is a cornerstone for sales and building business, networking for job seekers is equally critical.
In our previous conversations, we discussed optimal ways to prepare to attend a networking event and how to navigate a networking event once you’re there. While preparing for and successfully navigating the networking event are two very important pieces to networking, your responsibilities as a networker do not end once you leave the event. Following up appropriately, quickly, and purposefully is the linchpin of the entire networking experience.
The following recommendations ensure you are following up in the best way possible:
1. Take Notes During and Immediately After the Event
While at the networking event, everything happens in a blur. As you move from conversation to conversation, learning new things about those you meet, it can be easy to forget the names of the people you met or what you discussed. After finishing a conversation, take a moment to notate the name of the person, their business, and a word or two about the topics or interests that came up during the conversation. If you obtained their business card during or after the conversation, jotting down a word or two on their business card (or on index cards or a Notes app on your phone), is an easy way to distinguish between people.
After you have left the event, take the time to write down highlights of conversations in greater detail (while sitting in the parking lot or on the drive home if taking public transit). If you wait until the next business day to determine with whom you would like to follow up, it is far more likely that you will have forgotten key pieces of information that could help you establish and build that relationship.
2. Don’t Wait to Follow Up
Depending on the level of connection you made with an individual, you should follow up appropriately and in a timely fashion. If you truly connected with someone and want to meet with them again, you could send a thoughtful, personalized email to set a date to continue your conversation. If the person went above and beyond to help introduce you to others, or mentioned a critical lead, sending a handwritten thank-you note would be a nice gesture. Make a point to follow up with them shortly after the event, within 24-48 hours.
Even if you do not see a future relationship with an individual, sending a quick email thanking them for their conversation and saying how nice it was to meet them will help you leave a positive impression with them. While there may not be an immediate or apparent opportunity to work together now, you never know what the future may hold or who else they may have in their network.
3. Make “Industry Friends,” Not Business Connections
It can be too easy to view networking as simply opportunities to build professional relationships to help you accomplish your professional goals – whether it’s landing a new job, getting more sales leads, or getting more recognition in your industry or community. Throughout the process, but particularly when following up, do not think of networking and following up with people as a way to convert prospects into clients, or strangers into business connections. Networking mentor Marsha Shandur recommends viewing networking as “making industry friends,” not “business connections.” By viewing the people you meet as potential friends first, you will be more likely to enjoy the experience and learn more about who you meet than if you immediately try to make a pitch to them or aggressively follow up about a job lead. This will also allow your follow up to become more personalized and memorable.
Networking for your first time can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. If you take the time to be prepared, arrive at the event willing to get out of your comfort zone, and follow up with purpose, you will not only gain confidence in your ability to network, but you will also gain friends, advocates, and strong connections to the businesses in your community.