It’s no secret that networking can be a powerful tool for professionals. Whether it’s making connections with others in your company or industry, building working relationships, searching for business or career opportunities, or aiming to discover or improve upon your strengths and talents, there is a certain level of skill — and perhaps a little intimidation — that comes with trying to expand and leverage your network.
“Simply put, networking is building relationships based on your business needs in an effort to assist one another in succeeding and growing,” says Lindsey Angelovich, Life Time Work manager in Coral Gables, Fla. “It is such a powerful tool that allows us to make lasting connections. However, there are certain strategies and methods for how to go about it that can set you apart from others and help you make a more positive and lasting impression.”
Angelovich shares this advice for improving your networking abilities:
1. Communicate in a way that feels comfortable.
“Building a connection should feel organic, not forced, and I would recommend using whatever method of communication comes most naturally to the individual,” says Angelovich.
“I love to start communications by sending a personalized email with information about who I am, what services I provide, and some ways I think we might work well together,” she notes. “I also like to go a little old-school and pick up the phone to give someone a call. There’s a benefit to being able to hear one another, especially when you don’t know someone well. There are so many options available; perhaps you’re someone who prefers face-to-face meetups or virtual methods like Zoom.”
2. Come to your connect prepared.
“Before meeting with someone, it’s always a great rule of thumb to have researched a bit about what they do, be ready with ideas for collaboration, and have thought about any questions you want to ask,” she says. “You also want to be able to give a quick elevator pitch that easily and clearly provides an understanding of who you are and what you do.”
3. Have a clear goal in mind.
Solidify what you want to say, what you have to offer, and what you’re hoping to get out of the meeting. While you want the conversation to feel natural, you also want to have an idea of how to guide it so there are no awkward lulls and you leave feeling like you’ve accomplished what you intended.
4. Be genuine.
The most successful connections are going to be authentic ones. When getting to know someone, be true to who you are and find ways to show your personality rather than pretending to be someone you’re not or trying to portray attributes you think they want to see. And if you don’t click, that’s OK too.
“When networking, most individuals are looking to make real connections, and people are more likely to refer someone to you if they know and trust you,” says Angelovich.
5. Consider a kind gesture.
“If you’re meeting in person, depending on your budget, you have the opportunity to pay for coffee or lunch for the person you’re meeting with,” notes Angelovich. “It’s a sweet gesture that often leaves the option of another meeting on the table versus if they were to have treated.”
You could also consider options that are free but still convey thoughtfulness. Perhaps they mention a skill they’re hoping to develop and you follow up to share a training resource, or that they’re needing to update their resume and you offer to review it.
6. Update your LinkedIn profile and resume.
“LinkedIn is such a great tool for networking and provides a professional social-media option,” says Angelovich. “I highly recommend you keep an updated profile. Most people will reference this for an overview of who you are and what you do, so you want it to be an accurate reflection of your level and skillset.”
An updated profile is key, whether you’re using it in your search for new career opportunities or as part of your networking efforts. “I recommend adding results-driven information to both your resume and LinkedIn profile, she adds. “This allows anyone looking to have better insight around what to expect from a partnership with you.”
7. Practice engaged listening.
“The more you listen in the conversation, the greater chance you have of genuinely connecting and learning about the other person,” Angelovich explains. “While everyone is networking to grow or benefit themselves in some way, you need to care about supporting the people you’re connecting with as well. It’s a relationship. The more time you invest in developing it, the more each of your businesses or careers will flourish.”
8. Follow up.
“I always encourage sending a follow-up email or handwritten card thanking someone for their time,” says Angelovich. “Not only does it show that you are considerate of their schedule, but by adding some personal details or notes, it also shows that you were engaged in the meeting. It also helps keep you top of mind and allows you to continue the conversation past the initial coffee, lunch, or call.”