With more competition for fewer jobs, the ability to network is crucial for increasing your chances of finding out about open positions and even getting hired. Moreover, networking helps you polish your interpersonal skills, which can help you advance in your workplace.
“You can learn certain technical skills on the job, yet possessing the ability to connect with others is often what will make you stand out,” says Claire Tse, owner of Tse Solutions LLC and a certified instructor in leadership and intercultural communication. She recently presented her workshop, “Hook Them at Hello With Intentional Networking and Memorable Interview Skills” at an IEEE National Capital Area Consultants Network meeting. The National Capital Area includes Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
“Whether meeting a colleague or a potential employer, you need to find a way to engage the other person by sharing your value or work passion so that they will likely ask themselves, ‘Why isn’t this person working for me?’” she says.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Tse encourages people to view every staff meeting, luncheon, or conference as a valuable opportunity for networking. Many who attend work-related events just show up, she says. They make the mistake of coming in, saying hello to a few familiar faces, and then rushing to get back to their life outside work, she observes.
Tse views these occasions as missed opportunities: “Take the time to step out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to new people, because even if they don’t work with you, they still need to know who you are,” she says. “It’s not that people are exclusionary—they just tend to work with people whom they are comfortable interacting with.”
So, how can you leave a lasting impression on someone you meet for the first time? Tse uses a model she calls the three C’s: Clear, Concise, and Connect. The most important thing is to let people get a sense of who you are, beyond your name and job title, with clear talking points in a concise manner. Try to connect with them by sharing not only what you do for a living but also what excites you about your work, she says.
“If you show people you’re passionate about what you do, they usually want to know more,” she says. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What am I known for?’ and then convey that in a concise way without overloading your colleague with too much information.”
With that said, Tse advises against monopolizing the conversation. Instead, you should make a connection between your knowledge and skills and the work they’re doing, then guide the conversation to let them know how your skills can benefit them. Tse suggests balancing the discussion by asking some open-ended questions to learn what you have in common and create a two-way dialogue. Try asking an open-ended question, she says, such as “What is it that gets you excited about the work you do?”
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Once you’ve made a connection, what’s next? Tse recommends exchanging business cards and then sending a note within 24 hours. The note could say how you enjoyed meeting them, or follow up on an interesting idea you discussed, or thank them for a job lead.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back. “A lot of people do want to stay in touch, but life and work get in the way,” Tse says. If the person doesn’t respond after a few weeks, she suggests sending a follow-up message that includes an article that might be of interest to them, such as one related to the person’s work.
Not only can networking help you land a great job, it can also help you scale the ranks at your company. “Some people think their strengths and skills are enough, but simply doing what’s assigned to you merely keeps you on the payroll—it won’t get you promoted,” Tse points out.
Instead of focusing only on your assigned responsibilities, she suggests, be the “go-to” person. “A good thing to be known for is being the person who doesn’t say, ‘That’s not my job,’ but rather, be the person who does what’s needed to help the company succeed,” she says.
Tse also suggests that professionals wishing to advance in their companies should not be afraid to network with the decision makers, even if they don’t work directly with them.
“Many professionals in entry- or mid-level positions will not approach upper management,” she says. “If you can get just 15 minutes of face time with a top manager or executive, tell that person why you’re interested in his or her work and share how it corresponds with your own projects. It will often turn into a longer conversation and, potentially, an ongoing relationship.”