3 Tips to Improve Your Networking Skills

Clare Schulte-Albert

Networking Skills

Getting a job in today’s global economy is tough. Employment trends have shifted from 60’s style careers to yearly contracts. Now more than ever it is imperative that Gen Y hone their networking skills.

However the move away from traditional job security is not necessarily negative. It indicates the versatility expected of young professionals: to jump on new opportunities rather than be held back by a current job. Promotion now relies on the diversity of employers that you’ve worked for rather than the efforts to advance yourself by impressing a single employer.

In this era of globalization, networking skills are an important way to tap hidden job markets, make professional connections, and even boost the profile of your organization. Your employability depends more than ever on who you know, where you’ve worked, and the results you’ve achieved; not the length of time you’ve spent at any company. Networking skills are a young professional’s best friend in this day and age.

Networking Skills Tip – Building Relationships

Networking events are typically held off campus or outside of work. Think about all the organizations, extracurriculars, or community activities that you volunteer or work for. Think about your personal interests and what organizations match up with them. Are you an active member? Do you go regularly to their events?

Have you made an effort to establish working relationships with some of the key individuals at that organization? Are you a member on their executive? If you’ve started your own organization, have you made an effort to do outreach and find new partners to support your activities?

Every event hosted by an organization that interests you is an opportunity to network. Dress appropriately and don’t be shy when talking to new people. If possible, have one of your colleagues introduce to you to others at the event. The best professional relationships are made by simple introductions and consistent conversations with key individuals. Ask people at these networking events about their life story and what they do – this has been psychologically proven to up your ante with new people.

Internships are a great opportunity for you to build relationships with the organization where you have been hired. Keeping in touch with your contacts at these organizations will help you find out about internal job postings or employment opportunities with partners of that organization.

Don’t forget that you are also someone worth having in anyone’s network. To put it in a shamelessly capitalist way: Sell yourself. Why are you someone important to that person? What have you done that might be of interest to that person? You may only have a few minutes to talk, so make yourself memorable! It may be the only chance you get to become that person’s newest employee.

Networking Skills Tip – Using Business Cards

Business cards are your professional signature and a way to boost your first impressions at networking events. A business card is also a way to brand yourself as part of a particular network.

Networking Skills - Business Cards

Always keep your business cards handy. You never know when you might stumble into someone or find out about an event on the day that it’s happening. Give your business card at the end of a good conversation. A sign that you’ve done some good networking is when the other person offers you their card first or even asks for your contact information.  Do not force your business cards on anyone or make it the first topic of conversation when you meet a new person.

Make business cards for all positions that you hold. While you may consider some of your positions to be more important than others, business cards from specific organizations that you work for may cater to a target audience. For instance, if you are an executive member on an organization at an internal event, you might want your new network to associate you with that organization as opposed to your day job or student identity.  It’s a judgment call, but branding yourself differently for different audiences does give you a competitive edge vis-à-vis internal job hunting.

Online Networking Skills

Networking Skills Tip – The Follow-up

So you’ve handed out your business cards, made a good impression on your new contacts, and established a decent network with organizations of interest to your future ambitions. What now?

Keep in touch with your new contacts. Continue to solidify your relationships at organizational events and build friendships. Ensuring that your professional relationships are as genuine and sincere as possible just makes sense when you’re hunting for your dream job. Find out who is able to put in a good word for you when you submit your resume. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice on submitting your application or interview tips.

Finally, you are all intelligent people. If you feel that one part of your network isn’t helping you or that somehow the relationship is awkward, switch tactics and pursue another thread. The whole point of having a network is that you rely on many people to support you in your job search and future ambitions. Remember that it’s a small world and that we’re all connected by six degrees. Opportunity often knocks unexpected, so be ready for it.

Good luck and happy networking!

Networking Skills Six Degrees of Separation