When building a network is as easy as clicking a button, in-person networking seems almost quaint. Yet few people dispute the power of face-to-face connection, especially when it comes to creating a circle of people who can support your professional goals and aspirations.
I recently attended a local networking event hosted by an organization that supports young professional women. The venue was a local hotspot and featured craft cocktails and unique hors-d’oeuvres, so tickets to the event had sold out quickly. While connecting with new faces, I made a few observations. In a room full of mostly Millennial women, there was not much circulation going on. People stood in small tight groups—usually, the people with whom they came, for almost no one walked in alone. For the people who were attempting to make new contacts, it seemed difficult for them to break into these group conversations.
And yet, Millennials understand the value of professional networking. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, 71% of Millennial respondents agreed that networking is an effective way to build and nurture relationships. Yet the same survey also shows that among the major generations in the workforce (which includes Baby Boomers and Generation X), Millennials struggle with building and maintaining face-to-face connections. For Millennials looking to maximize the power of a professional network, here are some tips:
- Set a goal: Whether you are attending a dedicated network-building event or just reaching out to someone one-to-one, think about what you want to achieve. Setting a goal, such as getting five new business cards at each networking event or making one connection per month with a person outside of your industry, can help you get out of your comfort zone.
- Ask more questions than you answer: It’s true, people love to talk about themselves. Asking thoughtful questions and really listening can set you apart from mere business card collectors. Learning about someone as a person will help forge a deeper connection and can make the interaction more meaningful and memorable.
- Reserve judgment: You’re in different industries, in different roles, with different experiences. On the surface, it may not seem like a match. Don’t move on just yet. A robust professional network is a diverse one, filled with people whose expertise and value should complement—not necessarily mirror—your own. Keep talking and stay connected, because you never know when you’ll need to draw on the collective wisdom of those in your circle.
- Know your value: Many would-be networkers are reluctant to ask for assistance from someone who they are just getting to know. That’s understandable. But effective networking is a two-way street. Don’t forget that you have your own set of skills, knowledge, and expertise that can be very helpful to others. Think about the value you can bring to others, and let your network know that they can count on you too.
- Follow up: You’ve heard it (or said it) before, “It was so nice to meet you. We should have (lunch, coffee, drinks).” Then nothing. The follow-up is what solidifies the relationship. The key is to not let too much time go by before you circle back. Many experts recommend following up within 24 hours of meeting someone, ideally to set your next interaction. Whether you follow up with a phone call, an email or even a social media connection, be sure to mention some detail of your conversation. This will not only remind your contact who you are, but also demonstrate that the interaction was meaningful to you.
While many people understand the value of networking from a job search perspective, there are plenty of other reasons to build a strong and productive network. Yes, people in your network can connect you to opportunities, but they can also offer advice, assistance, and even friendship. Don’t wait until you need a network to build one. Start right now.