Building a strong network is the key to career success. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. These networking secrets and shortcuts will boost your business card collection in no time.
Take inspiration from the best-selling book by Danny Wallace and never turn down an invitation. Every event, whether it's a niece's birthday party or your colleague's barbecue, presents an opportunity to meet new and interesting people. If you want to go one step further then join groups related to your pastimes, volunteer for charities you're passionate about or actively seek out industry events.
Dress for the job you want
First impressions are heavily influenced by non-verbal cues: That is, the way you look and the way you carry yourself. Around 55% of that first impression is accounted for by clothing. Not every occasion requires an Armani suit, however – you’ll look out of place arriving at the aforementioned barbecue dressed to the nines. It's important to blend in with others while remaining presentable.
Be open and approachable
Fiddling with your smartphone or displaying closed body language like folded arms will discourage people from striking up conversation. Keep your phone in your pocket – if you really need to check it, excuse yourself to the bathroom to do so in private – and wear an open expression on your face. Smiling has hidden benefits too. Not only does a smile make you appear friendly and approachable, it can also boost your self-esteem.
Listen to understand, not to reply
As venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki says, “the mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot [but] that you can get others to talk a lot.” The biggest mistake is nodding along, waiting for your chance to speak. People love to talk about themselves, so listening and engaging by asking questions will make you more likeable. Remembering key facts about the person you're speaking to (what football team they support, upcoming events in their life) gives you a jumping off point when you contact them after the event.
Opportunities to network often happen outside of scheduled events. You might meet a potential contact during downtime, so have business cards printed and carry them wherever you go. You should also prepare an 'elevator pitch': a few sentences about who you are, what you do, and how you can help people. Knowing exactly what to say will stop you feeling flustered when you're introduced to a new contact.
Always follow up
Get in touch a few days after the event, and mention something you spoke about at the event. If the contact requested further information, try to arrange a follow-up meeting. If there's nothing immediate you can help them with then have a friendly catch-up, but don’t keep them too long. If appropriate, follow them on Twitter and strike up a dialogue there. Stay in touch –without pestering – and they are more likely to think of you when your services are needed.