Over the years numerous students and individuals have asked me in various ways, “How can I advance my career?”
There are a lot of ways to answer that question, but the one I always share is to understand the importance of networking.
A lot of us are really good “social networkers.” We log into sites such as Facebook and “connect” with people virtually all over the world.
While those skills are important, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we must be equally, if not more, apt at “networking socially.”
There is a difference between the two. Social networking is connecting with people virtually through a media device. Networking socially is connecting with people who are actually in front of you.
Being able to network socially is very important. After all, isn’t it true most of us are searching to find the people that fill in the statement, “It’s all in who you know?” We want to know those individuals, but what is the best way to go about finding them? Whether you are just getting started or have been at it awhile, here are a few networking tips I have learned during my time in this industry.
Just say hello
When I was a kid, I remember going to a show with my grandfather up in New York. Before the production began, he shook hands and said hello to the people sitting near us. After a few minutes he leaned over to me and said, “Always get to know the people around you.” This stuck with me because it really is true; you never know who you might meet or how they might help you. Whether you are on a plane, bus, or in an actual networking event, just say hello. You may be surprised who you end up talking to.
You have the right to introduce yourself
A lot of times we get fearful of introducing ourselves to people we know we want to meet. When this happens, it is good to remind yourself that everyone at the conference, in the meeting room, by the pool or wherever is there for common purposes and reasons. Therefore, I feel this gives you the right to introduce yourself to anyone in attendance. Most events are set up for networking specifically so you shouldn’t feel any reservations about going up to someone to say hello.
Attend events that are applicable
Several years ago, I attended a convention that focused on information technology. While looking at all the televisions and new gadgets was interesting, after about an hour I eventually asked myself, “Why am I here?” While it’s true you never know who you are going to meet, you will set yourself up for greater networking success if you attend events that are more applicable to your goals and aspirations.
Pre-plan if possible
If you have the opportunity to get an attendee list in advance, plan ahead and target with whom you want to speak. Even if you don’t know what the person might look like, you can keep your eyes on name badges throughout the event.
Know when you need to move on
Within the first few minutes of a conversation, you should get a pretty good idea of whether you need to move on to someone else or not. Not to say the chicken wing or door lock salesperson isn’t good to know. However, if a person’s job description or responsibilities don’t match who you are looking to speak with, then it is probably not a good idea to hang around for an hour-long conversation. Kindly excuse yourself and move on to the next person.
Ask new contacts to introduce you to someone they know
Have you ever attended an event where you didn’t know anyone? I went to one conference that was just like that. Fortunately, during the first evening reception I started talking to some people that worked for the brand the conference was centered around. After a little while I turned to one of the guys and asked, “Is there anyone else here you think it would be good to meet?” That little question got me in front of the president of the company and other key individuals. It never hurts to ask.
The importance of the business card
I remember a trip I had to Germany one time. Our team met with a potential client while we were there. Typically when everyone sits down at a conference table, business cards are flipped every which way. Even at networking events, cards are exchanged quickly and stuffed into pockets without much notice. At this particular meeting, cards were exchanged at the end and presented with two hands. This stood out to me because it felt like there was more significance behind transferring cards to one another. Now I try to remember to pause and look at someone’s card before putting it in my pocket right away.
Other business card ideas
If possible, write a personalized message on the back of your cards. I typically write “thank you” on the back of all mine. When people notice it, I always say I am thanking them in advance for any help or business they might provide. Also, make sure to take notes on people’s cards. This will help remind you when you are back in the office to remember what you discussed, and what follow up needs to be taken.
I think it is important that we seek to have fun and maintain a sense of humor in everything we do. When you start to get serious about networking and stressed about who you may or may not meet, it takes the enjoyment out of the experience. Be prepared as much as possible (especially when it comes to selling yourself and business) but have fun getting to know people you have never met, past acquaintances you have seen before and old friends even more.
Mark Williams is Director of Development for Coakley & Williams, one of the nation’s top third-party hotel management companies. In 2006, Mark received his B.S. degree in Hospitality from University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. He also received his MBA from Grand Canyon University’s Ken Blanchard School of Business in 2011. Currently, Mark serves as Chair for the American Hotel & Lodging Associations’ Under 30 Gateway. He can be reached by phone at 301-614-8848 or by email at email@example.com.
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