Networking is something that we, as humans, do naturally, but not always consciously. I may be quick to tell a neighbor who needs an electrician about this great or “not-so-great” contractor, based on my experience. That is networking at its most basic level. The difference is, I am talking about or to someone I know.
It’s a totally different situation when it comes to meeting complete strangers. For many, the momentary panic sets in. What are we going to talk about? How am I going to find any common ground? Here are a few tips I have used successfully:
Find out about them. After finding out about what the other person does and where–engage in questions about their company. This is where staying aware of current events would be very helpful. “I hear you are merging with “x” company, how is that affecting your role in HR?” may offer a way to start a conversation.
How can I help you? Another way is finding out what need they have that you can help fulfill. “Are you looking for a candidate in accounting?” “Is there a type of company you are looking to connect with, that I may be able to introduce you to?” “What is a good lead for you?” If you have been doing your networking, you probably have an answer for their question. But don’t worry if you don’t…it gives you a reason to be aware the next time you hear of someone who fits their need. Then, you can go back to the person with that contact in hand.
Get a clue. Sometimes networking is just making polite conversation and listening to what is happening around you. At the last local SHRM meeting, I made a contact with someone at my table, who like me, wanted to jump into dessert first; since it was already placed at our table setting. Since we had a bonding moment over our mutual admiration of the dessert, it made it easier to talk about other things.
During the conversation, she was talking with someone else about her experience with a certain software program, which I had not ever used nor had a need to use. I listened to the conversation, but really had nothing to add. We parted after the presentation ended, and I sent her a follow up email the next day; which is a very critical part of networking.
I was so thankful that I did! Two weeks later I was assigned a project that required the usage of that exact software package. Guess who was my first contact?! The same woman with whom I shared a dining experience in wanting to dive into dessert first–before eating our dinner! She is now in my network! I can use her experience to shorten my learning curve. And, I’m sure she is a valuable connection who will be happy to share her knowledge and experience.
Networking works! It takes some time and effort to nurture the relationship, but the effort often pays off in unanticipated ways!
Kathleen Kalies is a Certified Professional in Human Resources and is Business Operations Coordinator for Results Performance Consulting, Inc. (RPCHR.com) RPC is a consulting firm in Boca Raton, FL that helps individuals and organizations improve performance through HR management consulting and leadership and professional training and development programs.