Four Tips on Becoming a Successful Professional Networker

A month ago, Women in Technology (WIT) held their first panel, hopefully the first of many. The panel, focusing on Women in Industry, had four great speakers from different backgrounds. The event was a great success; there was so much information shared, and everybody had a great time. Afterward, there was a chance for the students who work at the UNH-IOL to network with the panelists.

After helping myself to cheese and crackers I stood around awkwardly waiting until it was time to clean up after the swarm of IOLers who made a beeline for the snack table as soon as they had been invited to do so. Other than the constant thought about how much my feet hurt in my heels, I didn't really have too much on my mind. Maybe I should go talk to some of the panelists? That was when I realized that I really had no idea how to approach people and network like a real professional.

I’m receiving a fantastic education at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), but being in an engineering program does tend to have a few disadvantages. One of those is a distinct lack of learning how to sell yourself to the professional world. I know that sounds a little harsh and demeaning, but the one person who can really tell a company why they want to hire you is you, and professional networking is a skill that you have to learn much like calculus, programming, or computer networking!

One very key aspect to becoming a force in the professional world is networking. I'm sure many of you have heard the mantra, “It's not what you know; it's who you know.” It's knowing how to get to know a person that’s the hard part. Sure, some of us are lucky with an uncle in congress, or that awesome engineering firm that you've always wanted to work for, but not all of us are so fortunate. So how do we get to know the people who we need to know? I did some research to find out exactly how to hone your personal networking skills.

Smile. Be confident. Make eye contact. This is huge. I really can’t stress enough how important this is. A person with a grumpy face, staring down at the ground or off into space or just generally not focused is extremely off putting. It's unlikely that even if you manage to make it through more than 5 minutes of conversation that you'll be remembered later for a potential position. A confident person gives off the impression of someone who is capable, secure, and a team player—the perfect candidate for that job you always wanted!

Take the initiative in breaking the ice. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but I find that it's mostly a huge mental game. First, you have to consciously decide that you want to talk to somebody. Tell yourself that it's good for you (kind of like taking medicine) if that helps. Step two is to brainstorm something to say to that person. Open ended questions are perfect for this. Or maybe a close ended question with an open-ended follow up:

“So, how long have you been working for your company?”

“How do you like it there?” or “What are some of the perks of working there?”

This allows the individual to make a connection with you, and the conversation can easily be navigated toward a topic about jobs or your skills as an employee, and how you might fit as an employee in their company.

Have business cards handy. Probably not many of us here at the UNH-IOL walk around with business cards in our wallet to hand out, but if you’re going to a function where networking is probable, it’s not a bad idea to have a few ready to hand out. You might ask, but Carolyn, where in the world do I FIND a business card? It’s easy. The internet. Search ‘business card’ and you will find at least four companies that will print out and mail your business cards right to your door. It’s not that expensive either. For $7 you can have 100 business cards to hand out to anybody you think might be a good connection! There are so many options, it’s easy to find a style that matched your personality and what you’re trying to convey.

Things to include in your business card: your name, a good phone number to reach you, an email address, and your LinkedIn account. That last item leads me to my last suggestion for networking.

LinkedIn. If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, make sure it’s up to date. LinkedIn is by far the hottest new thing in networking. LinkedIn is essentially an online resumé that your future employers can view at their own leisure. It’s far easier than trying to cram every little detail of your past experience onto one sheet of computer paper, and you can include a photo to make your page feel more personal. This isn’t a replacement for a resume, but now on your resume you can include just the essentials--one of which should be the link to your LinkedIn. Another thing, don’t be shy about adding people on LinkedIn. It shows people that you are interested in them and their business, and it shows that you have initiative. Not only this, but by establishing a quick connection on LinkedIn you won’t have to hold on to all of the business cards you gather while you’re out networking.

Armed with this new knowledge of professional networking I’m feeling super confident in meeting with people and making connections. As long as I remember to smile and make eye contact, take initiative by asking questions, handing out my business cards (which I’ll be ordering tomorrow!), and adding colleagues on my up-to-date LinkedIn account, I know I’ll be a successful networker. Now let’s go out there, network, and find that perfect dream job!

Carolyn Gernhard, IP Technician