Having a strong professional network is important, whether you are in the midst of a job search or settled in your current position and looking to advance your career. But the thought of attending a large professional networking event with potentially hundreds of attendees leaves many people feeling apprehensive or overwhelmed.
Here are three tips that will help to ease the anxiety and make sure you’re maximizing your time and efforts:
1. Use The Buddy System
Your objective is to expand your network by meeting and developing relationships with people that you don’t already know, so inviting all of your friends and turning it into the equivalent of a happy hour probably isn’t the best strategy.
That said, it can be a great idea to partner up with one friend or colleague—sort of like having a workout partner at the gym. You’ll have the comfort of having at least one person in the room that you know, plus he or she can help introduce you to people and potentially bail you out if you happen to get trapped in an uncomfortable conversation.
2. Set A Goal
If you don’t feel particularly skilled at working the room, you’re not alone. Even the most outgoing person can be off their game from time to time. Don’t head to an event feeling like you need to meet every single person in the room. Set a modest goal for yourself—for instance, try to meet and exchange business cards with at least three people. The day after the event, use LinkedIn to support your real-life networking. Seek out the people you met and invite them to join your network.
3. Focus On Giving, Not Receiving
The best way to build and maintain a strong network is to offer your assistance to the people that you meet. When you’re reaching out to connect on LinkedIn, for instance, personalize your invitation a bit. Try this:
It was great meeting you last night at _____. I enjoyed discussing _____ with you. Let me know how I can help you going forward.
If you can help someone else meet a business challenge, introduce them to a colleague, resource, or potential employer or employee, you’ll help make a strong real-world connection, while also building your reputation in your network, which makes it more likely that help will be there for you when you need it.
Networking events don’t have to be intimidating or tedious. If you have the right plan, you can quickly build connections as well as your reputation. Remember, the best time to build your network is before you need it, and, like a garden, your network needs to be maintained in order to stay healthy and robust. Focus on making and maintaining real-world connections, and use your online social networking in support of your efforts.
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