Polish Your Network: Top 10 Networking Tips

58The power and importance of networking is growing. Whereas networking events used to be optional, in today’s competitive environment they are critical — and could mean the difference between keeping or landing a new job and the unemployment line.

But networking is as much of an art as it is a science. So before you step up to the table and pin your nametag on your lapel, consider these 10 Networking Tips that will help you maximize your time spent sipping water at these all-important events. (Tip number 5: Avoid Food.)

1. Plan your networking. Start by creating a long-term strategy. Then set goals to serve the strategy. Then actions and activities that feed specific goals. Don’t just do stuff.

2. Inventory your circle of influence: family, community, professional. List the groups, meetings, people you have regular contact with in each of these domains. This is your current network inventory. See where you spend the most time and effort, and expand where needed to meet your goals.

3. At networking events, always wear a blazer or jacket with pockets. Your business cards go in the right-hand pocket; those you receive go in the left. Pin the nametag on your right lapel so that it is readily seen when shaking hands.

4. Always start with open-ended questions that require a sentence or two to answer. “So what kept you busy today?” = good; “How was your day?” = bad.

5. Avoid food. It will distract you from the conversation and can be difficult to manage while talking. Drink responsibly and opt for water rather than wine, but if you must drink keep it to one glass.

6. Networking is about building relationships. Go for quality rather than quantity. If you look at a business card the day after an event and cannot remember the person or conversation, the contact will have limited value for you.

7. Know the level of intimacy of contacts:
a. Email – for a brand-new relationship
b. Phone call – for brand-new but with some connection
c. Doing coffee – when the relationship has been established
d. Doing lunch – when you know the person well
e. Doing dinner or a social event – very close friend or colleague

8. Networking is a give and take relationship. Always give back for everything you get.

9. Use some form of contact database to keep track of contact dates, facts, connections.

10. Evaluate every event for quality of contacts, overall culture of group, quality of networking.