Networking can feel scary if you’re a newbie. But it doesn’t have to be! You can be a networking pro in no time if you have the right information. Read on to find out how to make networking work for you, with these 7 networking tips for beginners.
If you're just starting out in your career, one of the refrains you've probably heard is “to get a job, you need to network, network, network!” But if you're new to the idea, it can seem a bit intimidating, and you're probably picturing a stuffy event with people in suits furtively handing each other business cards. But even if that was ever true, it certainly isn't now. The world of networking has expanded, and it really is the best way for a newbie professional to meet potential colleagues, hear about job opportunities, learn new skills, and grow a professional network. Not sure where to start? Try these with these seven networking tips for beginners.
In this article, we'll share everything you need to know to network like an expert (even if you're just a beginner), including:
What are the core principles of networking?
Can you improve your networking skills?
Mistakes to avoid while networking
Seven networking tips for the beginner
The whole point of networking isn’t shaking sweaty palms or a free drink ticket. It’s to make meaningful professional connections to move your career forward. It’s like having millions of followers on Instagram: you can’t possibly have consequential communication with all of them. So if you’re new to networking, it might be beneficial to keep these core principles in mind:
Be true to your word. If you’re going to make an introduction, do it. If you’re going to share information, make it happen. Don’t promise the stars if you have no intention of reaching for them.
Be kind. Networking isn’t a one-way street, so don’t limit yourself to thinking about what the other person can do for you. Be willing to give of your time and knowledge.
Don’t disappear. Do your best to follow up with people you meet, whether it’s an email, a phone call, or a coffee chat.
Be interested in other people. People like people who like them. Don’t make it all about you. Ask questions, and truly listen.
Choose quality over quantity. A smaller, stronger network with more meaningful connections wins over a more shallow, but larger network.
According to CNBC, up to 70% of all available jobs are not posted on job sites, and that more than 80 percent of jobs are "filled through networking." The takeaway? Don't discount the power of networking. It might be the thing you need to find your next job.
If you’re new to the working world, you might be asking yourself, “How can I be good at networking?” The good news is that there is always room for improvement, no matter where you are in your career. Very few people are “natural networkers,” so rest assured, it takes time but it can be done. Whenever you approach a networking situation, keep the following in mind to hone your skills:
When you network, have goals. It’s easier to improve when you know what you’re working toward.
Know what you bring to the table. Make sure you have an “elevator pitch” as to why people should want to connect with you.
Have conversation starters ready. It can be tough to think of something to say when asked. Create a roster of conversational “icebreakers” such as compliments, questions to ask, or, if they’re well known in the field, something you admire about their work. Just keep it professional, and respect personal boundaries.
Ask for help when you need it. Networking is a great place to ask for career advice, so try to get comfortable reaching out to others (just make sure you’re available should they need help, too!).
Fake it ‘til you make it. It can be tough to have confidence, especially when you’re just starting out. Practice your communication skills until you have it. This can include showing interest in the people you’re speaking to, and listening more than you speak. Nothing blows a confident cover faster than awkward rambling.
Practicing these basic skills can help develop your confidence and improve your networking experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re “all thumbs.” Networking is a skill like any other. Give yourself time to grow.
Now that you have an idea of what’s expected of you when networking (and what not to do!), here are seven tips that will help any beginner network confidently and effectively.
It’s important to prepare ahead of time for any networking opportunities. This includes not only having plenty of business cards (and something to hold them in!) but also having conversational talking points ready. Think about how you’ll present yourself and questions you can ask others. Rehearse it so that it feels natural, not forced.
While you want to be prepared, don’t lock yourself into a set of talking points that you don’t deviate from. The whole point of networking is to make connections. While you should have goals on what you want to accomplish, allow yourself the opportunity to learn new things. You never know whom you might meet!
Most networking events have a set time frame, so make the most of it. While you want to check in with people you’ve met previously, if you’ve set a goal of meeting five new people, don’t spend all your time chatting with people you’ve already met.
Not everyone is comfortable in large group settings. If the idea of being in a crowd of people makes you jittery, you can still network. Find the types of events that work better for you, whether it’s virtual networking events, online networking (like LinkedIn), or one-on-one meetups. But no matter the situation, you can still play to your strengths by being a good listener, narrowing the list of who you want to meet, and spending your time with those that you "click" with (but avoid clinging to them like plastic wrap), and thinking before you speak so you don't feel flustered.
If you're a beginner to networking, you may not have thought of this one. The people who are in charge of organizing an event may have insights into the attendees and can make introductions you might not be able to attain on your own. The trick is to make yourself stand out, but not too much. Sure, you can thank them for their work in organizing the event but also consider offering them a little extra, such as a personalized “thank you” note, or a small professional gift. It might feel a little weird at first, but as long as you don’t go overboard, it shows that you appreciate their work and that you’re a considerate person. And they just might be willing to go the extra step for you.
Networking can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the process. So don’t go it alone! Bring a friend or colleague with you. Not only will you have an Emotional Support Buddy, but it can also help you meet more people. If they run into someone who might be helpful for you to meet, they can facilitate the introduction with the person's name and a "fun fact" to get the conversation going. Just don't spend the whole event chatting by the hors d'oeuvres table with your friend!
Don’t forget the power of social media. Having a strong online profile that includes your education, skills, and experience, is actually a good networking tool. Use LinkedIn, of course, but don’t forget other social media sites such as Facebook, MeetUp, Shapr, or even Eventbrite, which will help you find local events to attend. Keep your profile updated, and make sure to follow others, like, share, and post original content of your own.
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The point of networking isn’t just meeting as many people as possible. It’s about making meaningful professional connections to move your career forward.
Very few people are “natural networkers,” and it is possible to improve your networking skills with a little time and effort.
When networking, it’s important to be a good listener, be prepared, set goals, know your value, and be willing to help others.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.