How to Shoot Your Shot: Professional Networking

The second installment of the “How to Shoot Your Shot” series focusing on networking and meeting other professionals.

Following after the introductory post, “How to Shoot Your Shot”, this post will be highlighting the major aspects of networking and how to go from a rookie to a regular in the game of networking.

The Pre-Game:

If you have not already done so, please read the introduction to this series as it details the value of knowing yourself and it will be vital in pitching yourself to other professionals.

Here are a few short tips on how to prepare for a professional networking event:

Your resume is not a script.

Although your resume provides a quick professional snapshot of your career, it is not all that you do, so try not to make it’s content the focus of the conversation. When people ask, “Well, what do you do?” They typically don’t want to simply hear, “I work for ABC Company doing XYZ”. They are interested in how your work impacts you, how you’re growing in your field, potential projects you may be working on — a fuller picture of your professional self than you resume would usually allow. Perhaps try, “ I work for ABC Company doing XYZ, and I am looking into how I can connect ABC’s current inventory system into one that is more efficient and more affordable than the one they currently use. I’m also working on a Hackathon, and I hope to incorporate some of those same skills into the work that I am doing at XYZ”. Now, of course, this will only work if you have been exposed to a variety of topics in your field and are genuinely working on compiling all those skills together. But, even if you are just getting your feet wet in the industry, describing the impact you hope to create in your work is always better than just describing what you do. This is also referred to as an, “Elevator Pitch”.

Google Yourself

Once you know who you are, and who you are outside of your resume, it is important that all things relating to you reflect the same person. I understand that there are times when you would want to share those fun nights with your friends, but make sure (prior to going to a professional networking event) that there are not any definite links that can be traced back to this specific profile.

For example, if your Facebook reflects a more professional side of you, while your Instagram shows who you are outside of business casual, then take the extra time to get rid of any links or posts that can redirect someone to your Instagram account — where things aren’t so “appropriate”.

Another useful tip is to Google yourself. After any professional networking event, people may Google you to learn more about you and it is best to clean up your own digital footprint before an executive or someone else sees. You would clean your house before inviting guests (not family or friends) over, right? Same idea.

Business Cards

It’s always good to have more than one way of representing yourself. Although you may pass out your resume here and there, and pitch yourself to a few people, having a captivating business card in some ways ensures that the person who receives your business card is reminded of his/her encounter with you. They don’t have to be elaborate, but here are a few tips on designing business cards and a few affordable sites for printing them.


Execution

You are the best you. Always remember that. Even if you have only been working in your field for a short amount of time, make sure your interest in that particular field is communicated effectively.

Hold the 3 C’s close to your heart:

Be Clear.

You already know who you are, but what are your intentions? What are your goals? Avoid communicating in a way that confuses the person you are speaking to, or creates the impression that you, yourself, are confused. This may be something you might want to practice before hand, however pitching yourself clearly is something that can easily be done if you do not rush to answer the question, “So, what are your plans?”. Take your time as there is no rush (unless this is a speed networking event).

Be Concise.

Time goes by much quicker when you are actively engaged in a conversation, so it is important to make sure that all that you say is worth saying — no extra fluff. This helps the other person remain engaged in your responses, while lowering your chances of rambling and losing your train of thought. Say what you need to say, make every word count.

Be Creative.

No one enjoys answering the same stale questions over and over, so think of creative ways to engage in a conversation with a professional while still gaining valuable information. Perhaps instead of, “How did you being your career at ABC Company?”, try, “If you could choose another company to work for, what would it be?”, “What does the company you currently work for offer, that you don’t think you will find anywhere else?”, etc.


The Follow-Up

Now that you have a handful of business cards, names, emails, and resumes, it is time to put all this information in one location so that you can access it later. Create a file (maybe an Excel document) that separates people by industry, event, and even has a section for memorable notes on conversations that you’ve had with that specific person. Also, feel free to browse the internet for other models and tools that allow you to do the same thing.

It is important that you send a follow-up email after meeting other professionals, so that you can remain relevant and not just “another person” they met. Depending on your interest level, you may also want to reach out and inquire about a possible date to meet and have a more informal discussion about things, see where the two of you can build a working relationship, and how the two of you can learn from each other.