One of the potentially most powerful activities you can do in your professional (or personal!) life is to build your network. You can never be sure when you will need to draw on someone else’s experiences for a work project, need an introduction or “in” at a company you want to apply to, or just a good friend with similar interests in the same or an adjacent field.
Did you know that nearly 80% of people listed networking as a valuable activity to progress their career? Likewise, 40% of prospects indicated that they were more likely to become customers once they have met a company representative in person. While those statistics are not quite as high for virtual or phone conversation, anyway to get people face-to-face or over the phone will likely make an impact. Regardless if using LinkedIn or the old-fashioned way of face-to-face interaction, there are some great ways to build your network.
Below you will find three tips to make the most out of your networking sessions and how to build a strong, interconnected group or professional friends around you.
Find common ground with someone
The first step to any relationship, be it professional or personal, is to find common ground with an individual. If you both are in the same field, it should be relatively easy to build your network – there is only so much to discuss when it comes to project management.
Similarly, if you both work in adjacent fields, say, public relations and marketing, there’s usually enough overlap to make a real connection fairly quickly, even though you both work separately from one another. Loosely comparing resumes a good enough place to start.
However, if you work in completely different roles – as a physicist and a receptionist, for example, this strategy (discussing work) may not be the best method. While it is possible to still learn from one another in a workplace environment (maybe there’s some process your company does that could help the other person), it may be beneficial to discuss things outside of work. That could be hobbies, clothing, children, food, travel, or many other things.
No matter the circumstances, it is really important to find the common ground between two people (or more). From there, the real relationship building can start.
Networking 101: Actively listen and ask questions
Active listening is probably one of the most useful skills you can ever develop or possess. It can come into play at job interviews and in interpersonal relationships. It is how you truly develop a sense of another person, hearing how they discuss the topic at hand. You hear more than words, including intonation, enthusiasm, interest, and much more.
But active listening plays perhaps the most vital role in networking. By listening – and not interrupting – alongside asking questions, repeating information in paraphrased summaries, and asking more questions to dive into the heart of the matter, you will set yourself up for a memorable conversation. Those memories will draw your conversation partner in, and hopefully help you both connect and further the professional relationship.
Actively listening and asking lots of questions, even small ones, can really make a difference. Asking people what their thoughts or feelings are can likewise open up windows which may have remained closed otherwise. It is really important to learn what others are thinking, and this is one of the best ways to do that.
Follow up and stay in touch to build your network
As previously mentioned, people like to be remembered. Before you leave a networking event (or just a simple, powerful conversation), be sure to get contact information from those in your sphere. That may mean business cards or emails, phone numbers, or social media handles, but whatever way you choose to keep in contact, be sure to actually do so. People like to be remembered.
There’s no need to pester people, but an infrequent check-in, like a “Hi, how are you?” can mean a lot to someone. Maybe you have a follow up question from your initial meeting? Similarly, if you have bonded over a specific topic, the next time you see a news bulletin or humorous article, feel free to send it to them. That could be a good way to break any remaining ice while also keeping the communication fresh.
Whatever the case, by being friendly, you never know where the relationship could go. Networking is most certainly one of the best options out there for growing in your field. It also serves the purpose of human connection, which is sorely lacking these days, especially with many remote working arrangements. Reach out to someone if you have questions. That’s the best way to get to know someone else and build your network: ask a question.