Networking is a very important life skill. Extending and managing your connections, throughout various stages of life, is essential for success.
A few months ago, as a soon-to-be college graduate, I published a blog post titled, “Networking, A College Graduate’s Nightmare.” In it, I expressed my frustration of not being able to properly connect with potential employers through online channels alone. I concluded by posing a question, “How do college students create meaningful relationships with our ever-expanding web of contacts?”
So, with a few months of experience under my belt, I attempt to answer my own question. One must build strong networking skills for offline events to build and maintain a strong community of contacts.
In a post on July 8th, I recommended that my peers attend a minimum of 5 networking events throughout the summer (Summer Networking). Finding events is made easy with the introduction of social media. College Career Services departments, online networking sites (i.e. MeetUp.com) and promoted tours are great ways to connect with your online network offline.
I recommend setting up Google Alerts for events in your city that discuss a topic of interest to you. You can also use popular online job search boards to find industry events in your area – 10 popular job boards are listed in this useful blog post. In addition, your Facebook friends are more likely to aid in your networking efforts – BranchOut is an application to connect individuals with their established Facebook network in a more professional setting.
When planning on attending an event, be sure to do your due diligence and research its attendees ahead of time. Search Twitter for people talking about going, check the Eventbrite or MeetUp RSVP list and compile a list of people you definitely want to meet. Now, use free online tools (i.e. Google, LinkedIn and other social networking sites) to familiarize yourself with their recent blog posts, projects and employment history.
The majority of networking events provide the attendee with some options. While some attendees choose to sit in the lounge and update the blogosphere of their activities, others choose to attend the 5PM Happy Hour to mingle. Determine your “plan-of-attack” prior to the occasion, and make sure you get the most for your money!
Business cards are a vital tool for networking. Even if you are currently unemployed, I strongly recommend investing in “calling cards” as a friendly reminder to hand out at networking events, job interviews and other social gatherings. A recent post on eBranding Me’s blog discusses some unique ways to be remembered after an event – ThatGuyIMet.com.
Connecting at an event is only the first step. If you were interested in a person enough to ask for his or her business card, be sure to follow up with a thank you email and an invitation to continue the conversation. However, be careful as to what your email address may convey to your new acquaintance. Furthermore, be sure to manage your contacts and outreach efforts with necessary Gmail add-ons – Boomerang and Rapportive.