6 Real World Business Networking Tips

college students at networking eventWhether you’re still in college, you’ve graduated, or you’re just about to graduate business networking is a fact of life if you want to be successful in your career. And I’m not talking about just social networking. Too often people put too much stock in networking on the Web, and not enough emphasis on the face-to-face kind. Social networking is a great way to gain cyberspace mindshare and even create a brand for yourself, but being an Internet sensation will only get you so far. You still have to occasionally show your face at functions and know how speak and be charming without spilling your drink all over the front of pants.

So to help put you on the path to networking nirvana, here are six basic tips on how to successfully network.

1) Create a Website

Okay, so this doesn’t involve face-to-face contact with people, but a website allows you to work your way up to that. Having a website lets you catalogue every impressive thing you’ve done without carrying around an entire portfolio. That way when you do meet an important contact, you can bring up your work on your smartphone or simply email them the link to your website.

Also consider starting a blog on a topic that pertains to the industry in which you hope to have a career. For example, if you majored in environmental science, start a recycling tips blog. Or if you’re an education major write about new teaching techniques. Use a blog to brand yourself as an expert, so that when you send people you meet to your website they can see that you’re captivating and smart.

2) Read and Research

Once you get out of college the studying REALLY begins. Research your industry and desired career. Know who the major players are, why they’re successful, how long they’ve been at the top. Find out what makes people in your field triumphant and then follow those same paths. Subscribe and read every relevant trade journal, magazine, and website. With the dearth of information on the Web, there’s no reason to be uninformed. That way when you start making important contacts you have more intelligent things to talk about besides sports and the weather.

3) Be Outgoing

I can’t stress this enough: be confident when you meet people. No one wants to spend time with a mealy-mouthed, super shy, stares-at-the-ground introvert at a party or business event, so they’re sure as heck aren’t going to want you around the office five days a week. Shake hands when you meet people, look them in the eye when you speak, and above all have something intelligent to say (see #2 above, Read and Research).

If “outgoing” is not a word that typically describes you, then change that. Join a group like Toastmasters to work on your speaking skills; sign up for a debate class; get yourself on the radio as a guest speaker; offer to speak (on your area of expertise) to an AP class at a high school. The further you venture out of your comfort zone, the quicker you’ll get better at face-to-face networking.

4) Get Out of the House

Don’t rely on social networking to be social. It’s so easy to use your computer to make contacts, but honestly the best careers are built on personal relationships. There is still a human element involved in getting ahead. People in power are going to hire who they know personally before they embrace some goon they met on the Internet. So get your rear end out of your swivel chair, put on some nice clothes, and go on tour. Join professional organizations and go to their meetings. Take classes where you think you might meet people who could help you get ahead. Volunteer at nonprofits that work in your industry. Join volunteer boards of directors for your pet causes. Do SOMETHING that gets you in front of real people.

5) Carry Business Cards

Yes, you still need to carry those little cardboard rectangles around with you. As archaic as it sounds, you WILL be asked for your card if you happen to spark interest in someone who just might hire you someday. You’ll look like a slacker if you don’t have them.

Fortunately, there’s great business card software out there so you can create your own. This is convenient in that A) You don’t have to spend beaucoup bucks on printing business cards, and B) You can change the format and/or text on your card whenever you want (at no extra charge). Really, there’s no excuse now days not to have your business card at the ready.

6) Be Patient

Networking is like planting seeds in the spring and getting a crop of pumpkins in the fall. Typically you don’t see the results of networking overnight. It takes weeks or months of circulating to get the job, or even just the meeting, you want. The higher you set your goals the longer it will take to achieve them. Don’t let that discourage you from shooting for the moon. Of course you do have to eat and pay rent so there’s nothing wrong with getting an interim job (or a paid internship) until your ship comes in. Just be aware that your ship won’t come in unless you toot your own horn.

Networking is one of those necessary things you have to do to get ahead. Some people hate it, others love it, but either way, you have to embrace it. Then someday when you’re a bigwig you can start your own networking group for the next crop of newbies. (And you’ll know exactly how they feel.)

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