You've probably heard it many times, but it's true: Keeping in touch with classmates and business associates can pay huge dividends in your career. Oftentimes, jobs go unadvertised. So knowing the right person can mean the difference between getting and not getting that job. Here are a few tips to help you network successfully.
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1: Remember names
Dale Carnegie said that for a person, the sweetest sound in the world is that person's name. For this reason, being able to remember names will help you immensely. You may see someone at networking event whom you met at an earlier event, or even better, you meet someone who now is employed. If you remember that person's name, you will make a great impression.
A few years ago, while having a telephone conference call with a then-prospective client, I recognized the name of one of the participants as the father of one of my high school classmates. After I made the connection and mentioned it, the person said, "Let's hire Calvin."
2: Handle business cards respectfully
When someone hands you a business card, don't just stuff it into your pocket (as too many of us do). Take a second and actually read it. In fact, comment on the person's name, if it is spelled in an unusual way, or ask questions about it. You will likely not irritate the person, but rather make a positive impression, because people like discussing their names, as mentioned earlier.
In Asian cultures, the common practice is to offer a business card (with printed lines readable by recipient) with both hands, on the corners. Then, the recipient takes the card with two hands, also on the corners.
Simply putting the card away is akin to the husband who, when his wife asks how she looks in a dress, simply answers "fine" without looking.
3: Use business cards as reminders
That business card you just received can serve as a reminder. How often have you gone through business cards and asked yourself, "Where in the world did I meet this person?" To avoid this problem, write on the reverse of the card the date and occasion you met. When you later contact that person, you will sound more credible.
4: Make networking a full time activity
Harvey McKay, the motivational speaker, advises people to "dig their well before they're thirsty." That principle also applies to networking. Don't network only when you need to, because you have to find a new job. Keep at it all the time.
5: Keep social media up to date, if you use it
If you use social media tools such as Twitter, make sure your information is current. Nothing is more embarrassing than to have a LinkedIn page that refers to the "current" position you left a year ago. Make sure all your contact information is correct. If you have any email addresses you rarely use, enable forwarding to your most commonly used address. Just today, a university I attended asked if I had received an earlier mailing, which I hadn't. It turned out that they sent the earlier note to my alumni address, which I set up once and forgot about. Don't let the same thing happen to you.
6: Remember that one hand washes the other
I tell people all the time never to pass up the chance to do someone a favor. Even if they don't, can't, or won't return it, doing so is still right. The best situation is what I call the "high leverage" situation. It probably takes you no more than a second to forward a friend's resume to your boss. However, if things work out, that friend has benefitted to a degree that far exceeds your effort and will be forever in your debt.
At a networking event...
7: Use a known person as entrée into a group
Did you ever feel awkward because you didn't know how to break into that group next to you? If you know someone in that group, breaking in is easy. Just move next to that person, say hi, and start talking. At some point, shift to the person next to your contact, introduce yourself, and start talking to that second person, and so on.
8: Use line-waiting or refreshment table time to start a conversation
A good way to begin a conversation is to talk about the food, while you're waiting in line, with the person in front of or behind you. All you need to do is say something innocuous about how you like one item or another, or how good or bad the service is. Was traffic heavy, or was the weather outside bad? You could complain about either one. Doing so forms a bond, because the other person probably has the same feelings. Once you make those initial comments, introduce yourself, and you're on your way.
9: Find a connection
The more connections you can find in common with the other person, the better. Those connections could be hometown, school, or any other matter. The best situation involves you and the other person directly. However, extend things if you have to, to cover your siblings, parents, or relatives. In other words, even if you didn't attend the same university as the person, but your father did, you still have a connection.
10: Use the refreshment table as means of graceful exit
That refreshment table is not only a way to make introductions. It's also a convenient way to exit gracefully from a conversation. Simply say, "Sorry, but I would like to get more punch/beer/whiskey," and then make your exit. The refreshment table is preferable to the restroom as a means of exit.
11. Arrive early to help the event organizer
If you've arrived early, introduce yourself to the event organizer and ask if you can help set up. The person will be grateful, and you will have gained a key ally, because the organizer probably knows most of the other attendees.
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.