By Request: Networking Advice
I received an email from a shy MLS student during the winter holidays that asked for advice on networking. (This might be considered a natural follow-up to the advice I gave in November.) So...
First a little back story: If you've seen me in person, you would think that I've always been an extrovert. However, I began life as an introvert. My ability to talk to anyone about anything is balanced with alone time which is when I recharge my engines. This isn't unusual. You'll find other people that seem to be good at networking who get their energy in other ways (e.g, reading a book). And I'm not a natural networker and I suspect that most people aren't. It is skill that I've cultivated and I know you can, too.
- What stops people from networking is that they think they have nothing to say, aren't interesting, or are too shy. I bet you talk to the checkout clerk at the supermarket about your groceries, right? That is a short, focused conversation. When you're networking, your conversations can also be short and focused.
- In Syracuse, NY, the natural conversation starter is the weather. At a conference, the natural conversation starter is asking about the sessions. For example, "what sessions have you thought were the best so far?" (Notice that it is an open-ended question and not a yes-no question. This gives the person an opportunity to say something meaningful.) Every situation has a natural starter...and once you know it, you can use it over and over and...!
- Remember to introduce yourself. If you want to make a connection with the other person, that person needs to know who you are. "Hi, I'm..." "By the way, I'm..." "...nice to meet you. I'm..." And say your name clearly. Even though you know who you are, it can be helpful practicing saying your name and your affiliation, so that you are guaranteed to say it smoothly. ("Hi, I'm Jill Hurst-Wahl. I just graduated with my MSLIS with a focus in digital libraries.")
- In class, I had a student introduce herself as "Merrilee, like merrily you row along". I can tell you that I instantly committed her name and face to memory because she had given me a way of remembering her name. Yes, providing a "hook" that helps the person remember your name OR putting who you are in context can be useful. For example, "I'm Jill Hurst-Wahl and I just attended the session you gave on digital libraries." Not only did I tell the person my name, but I also provided a little context for the conversation.
- If this is someone that has some synergy with you, give the person a business card. This not only gives the person your contact information, but it reminds them of your name. (Honestly, I have had many great conversations with people that I know, but whose name I can't remember. Exchanging business cards is very helpful.) Feeling awkward handing over your card? "Here's my card, in case you want to talk about this later." "My contact information has changed a bit, so here's my new business card." "I don't know if you have my contact info, so here's my card."
- Have a business card! You can get cards very inexpensively through places like Vistaprint.com. If you are unemployed, you card could similar be your name and your contact information, and a few words about your focus or expertise. If you are a student, your card should contact your contact information and some indication of your school/program. Also consider a few words about your career aspiration.
- If your employer won't give you business cards, create your own! While you may not be able to use the organization's logo, the card can have your name and contact information.
- Consider including on your business card the URL for your LinkedIn profile and other relevant (and professional) social media accounts. For many, this is much more useful than having your mailing address.
- It is advised that when you receive a business card that you should write information on it about the conversation you had with the person or any other pieces of information that will help you remember who the person is. This requires effort and dedication that we don't always have. However, if you can do it, you'll find it useful. (If I receive business cards while attending an event, I write the event name or acronym on the cards, which I find helpful.)
- Longer conversations are beneficial, but this is where shy people may feel quite uneasy. Consider framing the conversation, so that it remains comfortable. "Can we talk over a quick cup of coffee?" "Do you have 15 minutes, so we can talk?" "I have a quick question..."
- Talking over food gives you something else to do besides talk. Your hands have something to occupy them and sipping a drink gives your mouth something to do while you mind listens.
- And there is the magic word...listen. Networking isn't just about talking; it is about listening. Learn how to be an active listener, then ask open ended questions, listen carefully to the replies, and ask follow-up questions when appropriate. You'll gather lots of useful information and the other person will think that you are a wonderful conversationalist!
- If you find yourself standing by yourself, go find someone to talk with!
- If you see someone standing by him- or herself, go over and talk with the person! This is likely someone who doesn't know how to jump into a conversation. The person will be grateful that you made the effort to engage him/her in a dialogue.
- Sit with people that you don't know at events and talk with people you don't know. While it would be fun to sit with your friends, that doesn't help you expand your network.
- Remember that it is quality not quantity. It isn't the number of people that you talk with, but the quality of the conversations that you have. In other words, it is better to talk with a few people and make excellent connections that to talk to lots of people in very quick (likely meaningless) conversations.
- I once watched a woman enter a networking event and walk through the crowd just saying "hi" and handing people her business card. This was not networking. She made no meaningful connections. In fact, she likely turned people off. She went for quantity, not quality.
- Play baseball! A baseball diamond have four bases and the runner must touch all of the bases in order to score a run. Create a virtual baseball diamond when you go to a networking event. The entrance is home base. Look around the room and select locations that are first base, second base and third base. Go to the area where first base is and find someone to talk with. When that conversation is over, head to the area where second base is and network. Then move to third base and do the same thing. Finally, head home and continue networking. What will you have done? First, you will have had four conversations, hopefully with people that you don't know. Second, you will have "worked the room", meaning that you didn't stand in one spot for the entire time. Cool! What happens if you don't make it to home plate? That may not be a bad thing. You may have found yourself in a worthwhile conversation that stopped you from working the entire room and that is okay.
- It is possible to network all the time. That may be a scary thought for some people, so think of it this way...it is always possible to encounter someone with whom you want to make a connection. When you run into someone like that, take the opportunity to exchange contact information, schedule time to talk, or whatever is appropriate.
- Networking doesn't mean staying out all night, drinking heavy or eating too much...in case you wondered.
- After a networking event, review the cards that you received from other people. If you promised to follow-up with anyone, make sure that you do it. Consider dropping quick follow-up emails to anyone with whom you had a useful conversation. "It was good talking with you...." If appropriate, connect with people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- After attending my first Computers in Libraries (CIL) Conference (2006), I was "friended" by several people in Flickr after I uploaded conference photos there. Yes, that was appropriate given that we were all using Flickr for CIL photos, and it did lead to use becoming friends through other tools.
- Have fun! While you should be professional in your networking activities, engaging in fun events with potential colleagues is okay. And honestly, even in lighter moments, serious topics and wonderful connections can be made.
A reminder...Ulla de Stricker and I wrote a book to help students and practitioners have successful careers. The Information and Knowledge Professional's Career Handbook: Define and Create Your Success will be available soon. You can read more about it here. For those who are networking in order to locate a professional opportunity, several of the chapters will be of interest, including "Developing your brand: the professional image" and "Looking for a job: tips and tricks".
FTC Disclaimer: Digitization 101 is an Amazon affiliate and receives a small commission if you purchase a product or service from an Digitization 101 Amazon link. (Trust me, I'm not getting rich off of Amazon.)