​Art, Science, and Skill: Learn the Tricks to Successful Networking

Art is defined as the expression of one’s imagination. Science is the systematic study of behavior and patterns through observation and experiment. Skill means the ability to do something really well.

It’s easy to see that networking perfectly fits all three of these definitions.

More than a skill that can be honed through practice, networking is also an art form that requires sharp creativity and imagination to be effective. That said, honing your networking abilities requires being astute and observant of what works and what doesn’t, just like a scientist would be. And if you want to become good at it, you must challenge yourself to be genuinely interested in learning and seeking opportunities to develop.

Networking is a critical aspect of success, from landing your dream job to expanding your industry knowledge, to growing your business. Help turn your next networking session into a career opportunity by doing the following:

Exude confidence

Your confidence must be evident in your actions, words, and overall attitude. Pay attention to how you act around people you barely know—are you able to look a person in the eye when you speak? Do you fidget your fingers, unsure of what to say? Or do you stand tall and ready to converse? When meeting new people, show them a warm smile, extend your hand for a firm handshake, and then make proper eye contact when you talk. And make sure not to cross your arms, as this tells people you are not very accepting of new ideas, suggestions, and strategies.

Keep your business cards on the ready

Business cards are only useful if you have them when you need them. Whether you expect to do some networking or not, always keep your business cards handy. Make sure they are within easy reach, so don’t store them in the far corners of your bag or glove compartment. Also, make sure your cards contain all your contact information, and briefly describe what you do. This will help your new contact keep you in mind should they need your specific skills or services in the future.

Listen and take notes

Networking is a two-way street, and you won’t convince people to come to your side if you can’t show them that you care about what they’re saying. If you take a step back and listen intently, maybe take notes on what the other person is saying, you can increase the chances of that person asking for your card. Over the long term, listening more than you talk can help you build a stronger relationship with people who can provide you with the help you need to achieve your goals. And make sure you remember names. It’s nice not to fumble for the name of the person you just met, regardless if you’re networking or not.

Ask smart questions

More than merely a way to gather information, asking questions is a great way to demonstrate interest and build rapport. Ask a few thoughtful queries such as “What do you do?” “What type of projects are you working on right now?”, or “What kind of help do you need?” Answering these questions allow the other person to feel that they contributed significantly to the conversation, which can help put you in a positive light. You’ll also get to know a lot about them, and this can help you plot out and perform your follow-up more effectively.

Treat people like actual friends

Sometimes, when we network, we neglect the importance of establishing a relationship, thinking that it’s perfectly fine to link with people solely on a transactional basis. You need to stop treating your network connections this way. Instead of thinking of it as networking, think of it as making friends. Meeting and connecting with people is easy, but nurturing that connection into something fruitful is a different story. You need to put yourself out there and interact. Go out for drinks. Talk about similar interests at length. Bond. Establish and maintain trust. People are much more open to working with those they like and believe they can depend on.

Get contact information

Of course, all your networking efforts will be for naught if you don’t get contact information. Before ending your conversation, tell the person that you enjoyed your little chat and would like to stay in touch, then ask for the best way to contact them. When proposing ideas to stay in touch about, do think of ways that your call or email can be beneficial to them. Put yourself in your new contact’s shoes and answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Open communication lines

It’s a good strategy to call your new contact a day or two after your initial meeting, while you are still fresh in their minds. Remember those notes you took? Refer to them before emailing or calling so you can remind yourself of the important talking points of your conversation. Following up doesn’t have to have an agenda. Again, you need to nurture your contacts as you would actual relationships, and this means communicating with them on a deeper level and not just for business. Don’t rush your contacts into giving you what you want ASAP. You may not get the results you want today, but if you take care of your network, who knows? When the stars finally align, the payoff could be bigger further down the road.

Keep your eyes on the prize

To put it bluntly, you make your networking efforts to further your career. With effective networking, you can use your contact to achieve your career goals, if not refer you to someone who can. People in your network can make the best advocates, thus underscoring the importance of taking care of your network. Happy contacts will gladly refer you, and when a recommendation comes from a trustworthy person who can vouch for you, it comes with an extra layer of credibility.

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