Networking 101

It’s what you know, and who you know

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W e've all heard the saying: "It's who you know in the job market." Though many of us don't want to believe it's true, sometimes it really does boil down to the politics. Can you blame potential employers? If they know someone is reliable, hard-working, personable and qualified, why wouldn't they go after them?

The trick to being one of these key players is showing up. It's that simple! If you want an employer or university rep to know you're willing and ready to show up every day for work or class, it's time to show up for social gatherings and talk yourself up.

Networking benefits you in more ways than one; not only can you put yourself out there, but you could wind up finding a position that better suits you than the one you came looking for, or meet someone you can collaborate with later on.

The art of social media and LinkedIn may be in, but it's the in-person connections that seal the deals.

So whether you're a social butterfly or an introvert, here are a few tips you can keep up your sleeve for your next networking event.

Preparation is key, but don't over-prepare
Figure out what you're going to say before you get to the event, but don't put too much pressure on the rehearsed script. People like genuine and authentic conversation. You know yourself better than anyone, so just be honest.

Arrive early
If you're not a person who likes the crowds, or you're nervous to network in general, arriving early may be the best option for you. This way, you can be there to meet the first few people, make some meaningful connections and you won't be left feeling overwhelmed. People tend to remember the first few names and faces they meet, especially in quieter settings, so you're bound to make some lasting impressions.

Set some goals
There's no way you're going to talk to everyone at the networking event. Set some goals once you arrive and scope out the situation you're dealing with. If it's a university networking event, make your goal to speak to two students, one faculty member and one administrative staff member. Most people have nametags and titles, so you'll be able to assess before you jump into a longer conversation with someone that you may not need to spend energy on.

Tell a story
It's always more interesting, and more memorable, to learn about somebody through the age-old art of storytelling. When talking about yourself and your credentials, try starting the converstation with an inspiring or funny story. If you get the ball rolling with a laugh or something personal, you're guaranteed to leave your conversational counterpart with something to think about. Even if it wasn't the connection you originally thought it would be, they may be someone you'll connect with in the future about something you said (this goes back to being honest, genuine and authentic in your conversations).

Listen
You may be a better listener than you are a talker, and that's okay. People love a good listener, and there is immense power in being a quiet introvert. Too many of us just listen for the sake of responding. But, an employer or university rep will always notice if you're listening out of pure interest and enjoyment. And you can bet they'll make note of that (especially a future boss or professor!).

If it's longer than two minutes, sit down
If you're really hitting it off with someone and you've been chatting at the bar for over two minutes, invite them to sit with you somewhere. This may prompt the conversation to end, if you're eager to continue networking, or it may inspire an in-depth connection that will lead to gaining the thing you came for. Sitting at a table, maybe in a quieter spot, will make for a deeper conversation about the program or position you've been eyeing. This is your chance to ask your questions and truly shine in a stress-free environment.

Follow up
Your conversation went well. They asked for your business card or email, and you parted ways. Don't let this be the end of your connection! Most employers will say the main reason they didn't hire the person or accept the person is because they never followed up! Even if you didn't receive their contact information, try to find it on LinkedIn or the business or school's website, and follow up yourself. A simple "thank-you" and "great to meet you" will suffice, or you can throw in an inside joke or something about yourself if you feel that you're at that place. Trust your intuition and make that connection.

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