How to network: five tips for young project professionals
Networking can be tricky – you need to form the basis of a potentially strong, mutually beneficial relationship in a relatively short space of time. For shy or more introverted people, this can be quite overwhelming, and it also requires a good instinct for knowing when to keep quiet and listen.
Here are five things that you can do to make networking more effective.
- Make a plan
What kind of event are you going to? Who is going to be there? Think about what you might be able to get out of the event – are you looking for advice? An opportunity? Go in there with a goal and try to come away with something that will help you meet it.
- Network in your way
Not comfortable with working a room? That’s okay. Introverts and extroverts network in different ways – while extroverts will meet lots of people and come away with several new contacts, introverts will have longer, deeper conversations with one or two people. Neither one is more right than the other – it’s just what works for you.
- Put yourself to one side
Yes, you have goals you want to meet, but going in explicitly looking for solutions to your problems isn’t going to do you any favours. Networking is about creating mutually beneficial relationships; both parties should get something from it. Try to listen more than you talk and offer up solutions to people where you think you might be able to help. Give your time up for other people, and they’re more likely to help you when you need them.
- Think about your body language
Active listening techniques are important for building rapport at networking events. Some of these are verbal – reflecting on what the other person just said, asking open questions – but a lot has to do with body language. By thinking about how you present yourself, you will make a better first impression.
Smiling and nodding are simple ways to let the other person know you’re listening. Make eye contact (though don’t stare them down). Think about your posture – lean forward a little when sitting down to show you’re listening or tilt your head a little when standing up. A little mirroring of the other person’s posture or facial expressions can also help build a connection. It’s important that you don’t force this too much or overthink it though – if you’re genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, you will do this naturally.
It may seem obvious to mention that you should have your business cards handy at a networking event, but a lot of people don’t bring them, or have to rummage through their bags to find them. Make sure they’re within easy reach. It’s also important to have somewhere specific to store the cards you receive as well – you want to make sure that all are accounted for after the event.
Once the event is done, go through your cards – make a note of anything specific you want to follow-up with the people you met. Find them and add them on LinkedIn, and include a note reminding them where you met and what you were talking about. If they aren’t on LinkedIn, send them an email – particularly if you discussed any plans or ideas.
Finally, look at your goals for the event and see how well you did in meeting them. Could you have done anything more to meet those goals? Apply your networking skills at the emerging professionals zone specifically for those of you new to the project profession at the APM Women in Project Management Conference on 26 September in London.