Learn Small Business

Building Networking Skills in Easy Steps

In today’s economy, a lot of us are looking for work. One of the best way to find new employment is by networking with friends and colleagues. For shy or inexperienced folks, this exercise can be daunting. Here are some helpful tips for developing your networking skills.

1) Create a target list of people to contact and set contact goals. The list can include family, friends, and neighbors; colleagues; professors and alumni from schools you’ve attended; vendors and salespeople; members of organizations you belong to or volunteer with; other professionals (e.g., accountants, doctors, real estate agents, hair stylists); and bloggers and members of online groups and communities.

Once you have your list, set goals for making contacts. Plan to email three people a week and to meet one person a week, for example.

2) Develop a 30-second “elevator speech” – a concise statement about who you are, what you are looking for, and what makes you unique. Have it ready and use it at every opportunity.

3) Create a business card and carry it with you at all times. Companies like Vista Print (www.vistaprint.com) provide business cards for discounted prices or even for free. The card should include all of your contact information, job title or objective, and even some highlights from your “elevator speech.”

4) Attend networking events, and come prepared. Networking events may include any meeting or forum held by professional associations, alumni groups, user groups, civic organizations, or social groups. When attending an event, try to obtain a list of attendees in advance or just before you walk in the door.

Decide before you enter whom you want to meet; a reasonable goal might be five people. Dress appropriately (usually business casual) and arrive early. Have pens and business cards ready. Ask others for their cards and follow up with a handwritten note. To overcome shyness, prepare a list of questions in advance.

5) Practice good manners. When meeting a contact at an event or elsewhere, always say please and thank you, use the person’s name, make eye contact, and when talking to the person again, mention something they said in the first encounter.

6) Remember that networking is a two-way street. Maintain a mindset of being a resource to others, and help fellow job-seekers whenever you can. This will not only build your network but also boost your confidence; everybody feels good and useful when they can help someone else.

7) Always maintain a networking frame of mind. Everywhere you go, everyone you meet could present a networking opportunity. Always have your card and your 30-second elevator speech ready, and take every chance you get to let people know who you are and why you’re special.

A long job search can get discouraging, but meeting new people and continuously expanding your contact base can help you stay optimistic. At any moment, you may meet the right person to change the course of your career.