Strategies & Tactics

The New Rules of Networking

December 3, 2018

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[shutterstock]

’Tis the season to make new professional connections and catch up with old ones. After a busy fall of industry events, including the annual PRSA International Conference, you’re likely following up with people you’ve met, sifting through business cards to add connections on LinkedIn, and sending holiday-season “hope you’re well” emails to people as a way to stay in touch.

But how do you network well and make those connections invaluable? Here are some tips for brushing up on your networking skills, both in-person and online.

Include a note

Maybe you had a great conversation with someone you met during happy hour after an industry event, but you can’t assume they’ll remember you without being nudged. Rather than send them a generic LinkedIn request, preformatted to read “Hi, I’d like to join your network,” include a note saying how great it was to meet the other person and at what event, and that you’d like to stay connected. Use the note as an opportunity to mention any follow-up items you discussed when you met.

People will appreciate that you’ve put some thought into your note and taken the time to add a personal touch. Later, if either of you need to jog your memory about being connected, you can refer to the LinkedIn notification emails in your inboxes.

If you’re trying to connect with someone you’ve never met, then tell that person why you’re reaching out. Let him or her know what you have in common. Don’t start your note with “Sorry to bother you” or apologize for introducing yourself. You’re a valuable person who’s worth a response.

Stay active

If you have social media accounts, then be sure to consistently post content. Otherwise, why have them at all? Especially on LinkedIn, if you aren’t sharing articles or recaps of professional-development events you’ve attended, or liking or commenting on other people’s posts, they may forget about you.

If you meet someone once and connect with him or her on LinkedIn, and then you don’t post anything for two years, the other person might wonder when they met you and why you’re connected. Don’t be a social media “lurker.” Use LinkedIn to congratulate your connections on their accomplishments.

Network laterally

When trying to climb the corporate ladder, people often forget to look around. Sure, it’s important to find a mentor and learn from those above you, but don’t neglect the opportunity to build a network of your peers. Maybe they can’t help you get a job in the short term, but in the long run these are the people who will refer you to jobs and rise through the ranks with you.

You can ask your peer network questions about how to approach projects or deal with team structures and managers, or about average salaries for your position.

Always network with the people around you, because one day you could be in the C-suite together. You’ll have the support of colleagues who have witnessed your entire career trajectory.

Do your homework

If you’re heading to an industry event, find out whether a list of those attending is available ahead of time. Skim through it to see who will be there. Go online and look up what they do now and have done in their careers. Did they attend the same university as you? Did they previously work at a company that’s always been on your dream list? Make note of these “soft talking points,” so when you meet you can move beyond small talk and have a substantive, meaningful conversation.

Don’t stress

If you connect with someone and they offer to read your résumé the following week but then they don’t respond right away, don’t fret. Or if you attempt a cold introduction and the other person doesn’t respond, don’t assume they saw your note and just blew it off.

Often, when people see a new connection request, they think, “I’ll reply later when I have time to write a more thoughtful response” — and then they get busy and forget. Maybe your email arrived in their inbox the day before they left for vacation.

Multiple, persistent follow-ups are a no-no (just as you wouldn’t pitch a journalist seven times in a row after receiving no response), but one follow-up with a prospective new connection is fine. People often appreciate that nudge.

Hanna Porterfield

Hanna Porterfield is chair of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. Based in Chicago but frequently found aboard airplanes, she is an account manager at New York City-headquartered Development Counsellors International. She is a graduate of Michigan State University. Connect with her on Twitter: @citygirlhanna.

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