Networking doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us — particularly in the time of a global pandemic. But if you want to succeed in an industry, you’re rarely going to be able to do it on your own. You’ve got to make connections and forge business contacts that you can call upon to find new opportunities and make stuff happen.
That’s why networking is absolutely critical. It doesn’t have to be scary, either. The truth is, there are loads of networking events out there that can help you turn strangers into reliable business contacts. The trick is knowing where to find them and how to strike up conversations to start building a connection.
This guide explains what networking is, how to find networking opportunities, how to start your online network, and how to start a conversation at a networking event.
Before we jump into how to network, let’s talk about what networking actually is.
In its simplest form, networking is just the process of talking to people in a business or professional capacity and sharing information with them. Networking can be either a formal or an informal activity. It can take loads of forms, like trade shows, job fairs, mentoring sessions, a casual lunch, or anything in between.
Networking can be an amazing way to reconnect with old acquaintances or rekindle previous working relationships. But more often than not, networking is all about meeting people you don’t know and trying to turn these strangers into useful business contacts.
Why is networking important?
From an employment point of view, networking is an essential part of any job search. Some of the best job opportunities and career changes come from networking with people you don’t know.
Lots of times, people find job opportunities through networking instead of on job boards or through other traditional methods. In these cases, jobs are either posted internally only, or job seekers discover these vacancies by reaching out to companies, recruiters, and other professional contacts.
Translation: if you want to further your career, networking is absolutely vital. More importantly, networking isn’t nearly as hard as you think it is (even if you’re shy).
If you’re new to networking and have never really put yourself out there, it can be a little bit tricky knowing where to get started.
But the truth is there are loads of networking opportunities out there — some are just a little bit more obvious than others.
To help you get a headstart, we’ll walk you through a few of the most common places you can find chances to network with new contacts.
Whether you’re gunning for a new job or simply want to make more connections within your existing company, there are going to be loads of daily opportunities for you to network with people you don’t know at work.
You’ve just got to know where to look.
Ways to boost your network include volunteering for special projects that will expose you to new departments and colleagues within your organization or volunteering to take on new accounts that will expose you to new clients and different sectors.
In doing so, you’ll learn more about where you work and how you can better collaborate with those individuals — but you’ll also meet new people that might be able to offer you other types of opportunities in the future.
Industry-specific trade events are an opportunity for you to learn from an expert within your industry. Many of these engagements are specific to a particular topic or department you work in.
But more importantly, trade events provide you with the opportunity to meet similar workers and speak to your peers. That's where business cards really come in handy.
Many of these events include allotted networking time right into the daily schedules. Still, some of the best networking conversations pop up right before and after presentations.
Let’s face it: sometimes you’ve met everybody there is to meet within your own company or the local area.
It’s easy to get complacent and stop exploring who else is out there (and what they can teach you or offer). But instead of accepting defeat, you should check out an online community like Jobcase instead.
For example, by logging into Jobcase, you can instantly connect with over 100 million other workers from around the globe. You’re no longer limited by geographic space or industry — and that opens up a whole world of opportunity.
Using an online community, you can get answers and help from others in your field, build your professional profile, and find new jobs way faster with the help of millions of other people who have been in your shoes before.
This makes networking with people you don’t know a lot less daunting and a whole lot easier.
It’s important to note this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of opportunities out there — and if you don’t think networking is “your thing,” it’s important to understand that networking can be a lot simpler and more fun than you think. You’ve just got to find the right setting that works for you.
Networking online comes with a lot of added benefits that face-to-face networking at events doesn’t.
For example, you’ve got more time to come up with meaningful responses to questions while chatting with new contacts — and you can strike up a meaningful conversation with workers from around the globe. That means you’re no longer bound by your own geographical area or existing social circle. You can network with some of the best and brightest people in your sector, no matter where they live or work.
But when you’re starting an online network from scratch (or prolonged period of inactivity), it’s not always easy knowing where to begin. Don’t worry, though, because we’ve got a few ideas to help you get started.
When you’re meeting somebody for the first time in person, you’ve got a lot more to think about than just the words coming out of your mouth.
Nonverbal language can be a total dealbreaker — and so you’ve got to consider your levels of eye contact, what your handshake is like, facial expressions, how to send visual cues you’re listening to the person talking, and more.
But when you’re introducing yourself to somebody online, it’s more about what you say rather than how you say it.
When you introduce yourself online, you should have a concise statement prepared covering all of the basics about you and why you’re striking up a conversation. You’ll need to include your first and last name, your company, your job title, and an important fact about yourself.
You’ll want to keep it brief. In fact, it should be shorter than a standard startup elevator pitch.
For example, you might say: “Hi there. My name is John Smith, and I work with [Company Name] as a retail worker. I’ve been doing it for a few years but am now looking to venture into charity work.”
That’s about as long as it should get. Instead of giving away more information right away, ask a quick question in order to start building up the conversation. From there, you can start to give new information about yourself or why you’re getting in touch as the chat progresses.
Just be careful to ensure this isn’t a monolog. Remember: you’re introducing yourself to somebody, but conversations go two ways. Be sure to ask simple questions and give your new contact a chance to tell you information about themselves, too.
It’s one thing introducing yourself to a potential internet connection. But even the world’s best introduction is going to be a total waste of time unless you effectively follow up with that new connection.
So, how do you follow up with online connections?
It’s important to remember that time is of the essence. You’ve got to make sure you reinforce the personal connection before the other person has forgotten all about you and your stellar introduction.
That’s why it’s generally advised that you follow up with professional contacts within 24 hours. This could take one of several forms, which will depend a lot on how and where you were introduced.
For example, suppose you met someone in a virtual community. In that case, you might strike up a follow-up conversation on a new thread or by sending a direct message (DM). Or, if you exchanged email addresses as part of a virtual conference chat room, send them a quick email.
In that message, you’ve got to jog their memory by briefly reminding them about the conversation that took place when the two of you met. This will help make sure your new contact remembers you.
Then, it’s always worth offering to help people before asking them for a favor. It doesn’t have to be a big thing — for example, you could forward them a link to an article about what you were discussing or pass along the email address of somebody you offered to connect them with.
Next, it’s worth asking to meet up. If you two live or work in the same general geographic area, you could suggest a place and a time to meet up for a quick coffee. But suppose you’ve been networking with people on the other side of the globe. In that case, you can suggest a time for a Zoom or phone call to talk more about your ideas and how you might collaborate in the future.
Conversation starters are absolutely essential if you want to be able to have a smooth and enjoyable discussion with people and avoid awkward silences.
That’s why it’s always worthwhile to prepare a couple of conversation starters in advance for various situations. If the conversation starts to dry up, you’ll be able to pull a new conversation starter out of your back pocket to keep things moving along and keep the chat flowing.
Conversation starters are also great ways to open up opportunities for follow-up questions and add some depth to your discussions. To get you started, here are five classic conversation starters that can be a genuine lifesaver at both online and offline networking events.
This is a pretty obvious choice, but it rarely fails.
Why should you pocket this conversation starter? Above all else, it’s positive. It also invites the person you’re talking with to offer some personal (but casual) insights that will make it easy to follow up with additional questions.
At the end of the day, everybody likes to talk about themselves. In a work capacity, lots of people also like to reminisce about their past and how their career has developed.
This conversation starter is particularly effective if you’re meeting with managers or other high-ranking people because it helps them know you respect them.
This is another one that will make the person that you’re meeting feel important. It gives them a chance to share their personal stories and their beliefs — but it can also give you a chance to learn inside information about the sector you’re working in (or the sector you want to break into).
With this conversation starter, you’ll be giving the person you’re talking to a chance to open up about their interests and passions.
This will open them up a lot quicker, enabling you to learn more about them and start to build a meaningful connection. It also lends itself to loads of follow-up conversations to keep the conversation moving along.
This one is like “old faithful.” It's not terribly exciting, but it certainly gets the job done. With this opener, you’re concisely introducing yourself and opening up the conversation for the other person to do the same.
From there, you can ask more about their particular role, the company they work for, or what they enjoy about that company.
If you’re a job seeker, you can end up missing out on a lot of amazing opportunities if you don’t try networking. Some of the best jobs come up as a result of networking, so you’ve got to get yourself out there.
Fortunately, networking with new people is a whole lot easier than you think (even if you’re not necessarily a people person).
By establishing an online presence and joining a community of workers, you can instantly connect with millions of people from all across the globe. You can ask questions, get advice, share insights, and get help tracking down the biggest and best jobs.
Ready to start networking? Join the Jobcase community now.