The 4-Steps of Networking

Adding networking activities to your already overloaded schedule can be daunting, but it is so worth it. Just ask the countless college grads that have found entry level jobs recently through networking contacts and referrals.

In the months after college, when you’re preoccupied with starting an exciting new chapter in your life, networking may be the last thing you want to do. And, even for the most motivated graduates, it’s often frustrating trying to figure out where (or how) to start. Fortunately, the phases of building mutually beneficial relationships through networking actually evolve quite naturally. And to be successful, it’s important not to rush through any of the steps. Let’s take a closer look at the four basic steps of networking.

Step 1: Introduce

The first step is just making a simple introduction. This could be introducing yourself to a new contact at an event, in a meeting, through a mutual friend, on a social networking web site, or via phone or e-mail. While this may seem obvious, keep in mind that how you are perceived during the introduction step of networking will impact your future relationship with this person. Be conscious of your actions and strive to make a good impression. Your goal is to come across as a person others will want to get to know.

The introduction is your one and only chance to make a positive first impression. Here are a few pointers:

Networking Introduction Tip 1: Pronunciation

As you introduce yourself, remember to pronounce your full name clearly. This is especially important for people with unusual names. If you do not catch the name of the person you are meeting, ask them to repeat it immediately – it will save you from an embarrassing situation later on.

Networking Introduction Tip 2: Smile

Smile and be approachable. Use eye contact and a firm handshake to convey confidence. This will ensure you project a mature and professional image.

Networking Introduction Tip 3: Dress for Success

Dress appropriately for the occasion. When in doubt about the dress code, wear something a notch or two nicer than what you think is required. It’s always better to overdress than to be underdressed.

Networking Introduction Tip 4: Be Interesting, (or at least act like you are).

Have a few conversation starters ready to go, in case the conversation stalls immediately after names are exchanged.

Networking Introduction Tip 5: Be Prepared

If you are in a meeting, do your research and be prepared. For example, if you are meeting with someone who accepted your request for an informational interview, have your questions ready and know what company and in which department he or she works. People are not left with a positive impression of someone who wastes their time by not being prepared for meetings.

Networking Introduction Tip 6: Be Concise

If you are introducing yourself to someone online, via e-mail or the phone, get to the point quickly. Plan what you want to say and be sure to be up front about your purpose in contacting them. Don’t fumble around with words, or be vague. If you’re nervous, or worried that you might be when the time comes, write down what you want to say on index cards and have them in front of you. To avoid sounding like you’re reading from a script, just jot down a few bullet points that will help you stay on track during your introduction.

Step 2: Share

The sharing step of networking is your chance to exchange information that will help forge a connection. It is vitally important that you possess the ability to talk about yourself succinctly and in a way that makes people want to know more. Your goal is to keep the conversation going long enough to find something in common and establish rapport.

It is not at all unusual for a couple of simple questions to completely stump people as they are chatting with someone new or at an event. Questions as common as “What do want to do?” or “What types of companies have you been interviewing with?” can make intelligent graduates go blank. Practice your answers to these questions until you become as comfortable responding to them as you are putting on your socks in the morning.

Never lose sight of the fact that the sharing step of networking involves two people. Often, people are so focused on making a good impression that they fail to listen to anything the other person says. To build mutually beneficial relationships, which are, after all, the entire reason you’re networking, you must discover the goals and passions of the people you’re meeting. You will find that asking open-ended, compelling questions, as well as sharing your experiences, will lead your conversations into territory that is beneficial to all parties.

Connections can be on a personal or professional level, so feel free to ask questions outside of business. In fact, some of the most successful business relationships were started when people discovered they had a common personal interest, and vice versa.

TRUE STORY

“When I was looking for my first real job, I sent out exactly 92 resumes. I applied for any job that had anything to do with computers: helpdesk, PC tech, web design, programming, etc. My 92 resumes resulted in two callbacks and no offers. One day I was in the college computer lab working on a programming project. One of my classmates was there too and approached me for some help. He asked what I did for work. A little embarrassed I told him that I was working at KFC, but trying to get into IT. He mentioned that he worked with CKE Enterprises (Carl's Jr/Hardee's) in the IT department as a desktop engineer and said that he knew of help desk jobs that were open at the company. He even offered to pick up an application from the manager for me. So the next class he brought the application, I filled it out and dropped it off at their corporate headquarters. A few days later I had my first interview and got the job. The 92 resumes didn't even make a dent against the power of a network.”

Jonathon Unger
CEO, SmallCart Systems
Los Angeles, CA

NEXT: Read the rest of The Four Steps of Networking now.

This article was written by: Anne Brown and is a modified excerpt from her book, co-authored by Thom Singer, "Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Graduates" (New Year, 2010)