Networking For Young Professionals By A Young Professional – Three Tips To Get Ahead Of The Game
By Matthew Williams
In the beginning…
Picture this, you are two weeks into your exciting new graduate scheme in the City, you are finally getting settled into your new home, balancing your workload and building relationships with your colleagues. The nerves start to disappear and you feel like you are getting a grip on your new routine.
Suddenly, you get an email from the head of marketing saying that you have been invited to, and are expected to attend, a seminar on a topic you don’t understand which is followed by a networking event. The butterflies start to reappear. The idea of having to make small talk with established professionals makes you feel (more than a little) uncomfortable. What if I don’t know enough about my own role to hold a conversation? What if I forget their name in the first two seconds after hearing it? What if their first and lasting impression of me is as a nervous wreck with a propensity for awkward silences?
The good news is that all professionals have been in your shoes. To combat those initial fears and help those at the very beginning of their networking lives, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that I wish I had known when starting out in the daunting world of “BD” (Business Development). Although my experience has been in Business Development, it’s important to note that networking is essential across the entire insurance industry and building these external relationships are key to a lasting career.
Tip #1 – Keep calm and prepare your ‘elevator’ pitch
Several colleagues of mine have mentioned that the worst scenario you can find yourself in at a networking event is to be caught in a group conversation that is predominantly made up of awkward silences. And when it finally comes to your attempt to fill that silence you forget what you do, where you are from and any snippet of a connection that you may have had with the group. This is a common fear and is certainly one that I had when first starting out.
I have found that a means of combatting the awkward silence is to prepare and practice your ‘elevator’ pitch. It is more than just your name and who you work for. This represents the 30 second conversation you have with someone which highlights what you do, where you do it, where you are from and in some cases how you can add value to them or their business. Once you have your elevator pitch down to a ‘T’, you can use elements of it to extend the conversation in any number of directions. For example by asking what another member of the group does? Where they are from? If they have met many professionals from your role before? What they thought of them? Etc.
Having an ‘elevator’ pitch primed and ready before attending my first networking event would definitely have been a useful strategy and is something that I would highly recommend utilising if you are new to the game.
Tip #2 – Listen
When first starting to network I was introduced to dozens of people with daunting titles who worked at large firms or companies in the City. The ability to listen intently and remember their names and roles after a long day at work, an hour long seminar and two glasses of wine certainly proved to be a challenge!
As I began to attend more events and recognise different individuals however, the ones that stood out the most were those that remembered who I was, as well as snippets of information about my life.
‘How is the new flat? Are you settling in well?’
‘I saw that the rugby team you support lost last week.’
These are the comments and questions that proved to me that an individual really cared about what I had to say and appeared genuinely interested in me as a person. I was therefore more inclined to reciprocate the behaviour and remember who they were, which at the end of the day is why we network in the first place.
So my second tip would be to talk less about yourself, ask more questions and try your best to remember who they are and information about their lives. By emphasising these items I can guarantee that it will help lead to a good first impression. I know it certainly works well on me!
Tip #3 – Close professionally and remember to reach out
My third and final tip for people new to networking is to learn how to close a conversation and to remember to reach out to people after the event.
Much like the above mentioned ‘elevator’ pitch it may be worth practising this one beforehand. From experience, most conversations end with a member of the group either leaving to get another drink, go to the bathroom, say hello to somebody they recognise or to go home. This is sometimes preceded by a short period of scanning the room for bars, bathrooms, friends or exits. If someone is in the process of looking around them instead of listening or speaking to you this is generally a good indication to move on.
Once you have an appropriate reason to leave the conversation it is important to politely excuse yourself, explain why you are moving on and ask to exchange business cards or details if you wish to continue the relationship at a later date. This can be followed by a handshake as a sign of solidarity. Remember, if you don’t get their business card, it can be difficult to follow up later.
One piece of advice I have received is to be sure to bring a pen with you. As soon as you have a chance, either during the event or after, make notes on the back of the business card with snippets of information about them and your conversation. The next day it will be important to note down all of the individuals you met, as well as their contact details. Lastly I will drop them a polite email and explain that it was great to meet them the night before and either that I am looking forward to meeting them at the next event or to ask them for a follow up coffee one morning. The notes you wrote on the business cards provide excellent information to include in the email or for future conversations, especially if you are meeting a number of different people all in the same evening.
This technique has had a great success rate for me and has led to a number of useful contacts, and even friendships.
In conclusion, the above tips represent three items that I wish I had known before my first networking event and I hope that they prove useful to you. As a final point, I would add that everybody has their own individual techniques and skills when it comes to networking and that it will ultimately be up to you to discover your own.
If you are about to attend your first networking event, best of luck and remember that we have all been there! And if you want some more practise, we hope to see you at an NGIN event soon.