Strong networking skills are one of the most useful abilities you can have. Unfortunately, it’s usually not something we’re born with – you’ll have to practice to improve.
Luckily, with some guidance, you’ll quickly master networking. In this piece, you’ll learn how to improve your networking skills.
How to Improve Your Networking Skills
1. Give more than you take.
Whenever you engage in networking, think of how you can add value to others’ lives. Tory Bullock, HubSpot’s YouTube Content Creator, recommends being that “someone” who always has something to offer.
For example, if a person mentions that they want to revamp their site, introduce that friend of yours who has years of web design experience. Or, if you see an event that might be useful to others, send them a message along with an invitation via LinkedIn.
What we like: If you’re always the problem-solving type, others will see you as the person who always has a solution. This also makes them more likely to introduce you to others or give you a hand.
2. Network throughout your entire career.
Brian Tracy, a business training consultant, believes that to succeed you need to surround yourself with the right people. And a lot of the time, it’s not about what you know, but who you know.
To help, Tracy suggests developing a deliberate and systemic approach to networking throughout your career. He goes as far as saying that you should split people you meet into categories:
- Helpful versus non-helpful.
- Ambitious versus non-ambitious.
- Going somewhere versus going nowhere.
Whenever you’re in a new place, be it an event or an office, you should try to identify influential people. If you switch jobs, look for top individuals in your organization, make them your role models, and pattern yourself after them.
What we like: Tracy treats networking as a continuous process. He doesn’t stop as soon as he meets a few people but continues his quest. Remember, networking is a continuous process.
3. Be your honest self.
What you wear, how you style your hair, and how you speak all have a huge influence. With that in mind, stay honest with yourself and others.
Ouigi suggests starting off with something as simple as looking at yourself in the mirror. Observe your body posture and try to catch any non-verbal cues.
Is the person looking back at you someone who seems at ease with themselves? Think of any changes that could improve your image, while still feeling 100% comfortable.
For example, a networking event might be business casual. Pink may be your signature color, so you may opt for your favorite pink blazer. A genuine “you” will always win with a fictionalized version.
What we like: Being honest is a great way to come across as trustworthy. And it’s also such a liberating feeling. You’ll have the confidence boost you need when reaching out to strangers, or that one conference speaker you were hoping to introduce yourself to.
4. Be selective about who you include in your inner circle.
Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates agree that you need to wisely choose the people you surround yourself with. They will have a significant impact on your life, including your career choices.
You should be picky. Network with people who are aspirational. Someone who could act as your role model.
Buffet and Gates say that too many people have an unstructured approach to networking. As a result, they end up surrounded by people who aren’t ambitious, and who don’t motivate them to achieve their goals.
What we like: It’s not about quantity but quality. Throughout our lives, we meet hundreds of people. However, our time is limited. Focus on networking with people who will have a positive impact.
5. Attend an event and talk to a panel moderator.
When entrepreneur Tim Ferris wasn’t well-known, he would go to high-end events and attend moderated panels. When the panel ended, instead of standing in line to chat with the panelists, Ferris would approach the moderator.
While they’re often ignored by attendees, moderators know all the people who are worth talking to.
Be honest and humble, you can say that it’s your first time at this event, and you don’t know anyone. Tell them what you’re interested in, and ask who they think is worth meeting.
After they point you to the right person, you’ll be able to approach them and mention that the moderator recommended talking to them. You will have a social stand of approval from one person already.
Follow the same approach with each new person you meet at the event. Keep asking questions, and use it as an opportunity to learn. People will start gaining interest in you, and your network will start growing.
What we like: Ferris’ approach to networking is very creative and efficient. And, by mentioning the moderator, you get a credibility boost.
6. Uncover the potential of weak ties.
Rob Kim, a career strategist from the University of British Columbia, recommends leveraging your existing channels.
On top of building strong bonds, he recommends investing time in creating loose connections. These are the professionals, whom you have a certain overlap of interests with, but have spoken to just once or twice.
Rob doesn’t base his recommendation purely on his own experiences, but also on a five-year-long study of over 20 million professionals.
The results show that weak ties have a huge impact on job mobility and career advancement. Particularly in digital industries, where professionals frequent networking events.
What we like: You can use this approach simultaneously with building strong bonds to expand your professional reach. The only condition for this to work? Make sure that your “loose connections” aren’t unrelated to your field and objectives.
7. Exit conversations gracefully.
You know the old saying, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you end”? When it comes to networking, both are equally important. You need to exit a conversation tactfully to make sure you leave a lasting, good impression.
Hannah Fleishman, director of employer brand and internal communications at HubSpot, underlines that networking isn’t like speed-dating. It’s not about meeting as many people as possible; it’s about building promising connections.
Some conversations will run their course quickly, so you need to part ways respectfully. Fleishman has some great ideas on how to tackle this.
If there’s sudden silence, you can end with “please keep me posted about how the project goes, I’d love to learn how it turns out”. Or, you can ask the person you’re talking to if they’ve seen anyone from a specific company, as you’ve been planning to chat with them.
This will let you exit the conversation without anyone feeling offended.
What we like: By preparing a few tactful exit statements, you show the person you’re speaking to that building your professional network is important. Not to mention, how you end your interactions speaks volumes about your professionalism.
Taking Your Networking Skills to a New Level
Building and strengthening your professional connections is important throughout your entire career. When you network, seek out ambitious, helpful individuals. But remember, it’s a two-way street. You must also add value to others’ lives.
If you build new connections thoughtfully and show others respect, your efforts will certainly pay off. Good luck!