Just because the end of the year is approaching doesn’t mean you can slow down your networking activities. In fact, the opposite may be true. That’s because the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is filled with opportunities to expand your network—ripe for the picking.
Here are some networking tips to use as you take advantage of all the extra events on your calendar to grow your professional connections.
Put yourself out there
You may be hesitant to add one more thing to your already packed calendar or you may be nervous about making small talk with strangers, but Francine Blume, UMGC assistant vice president of Career Development, says this shouldn’t prevent you from attending networking events in person. If you skip the face-to-face events and network only online, you miss out on the special connections you make when you meet someone in person.
If you struggle with conversation, you can ease into things.
"Go to an event that is within your comfort zone.” Blume suggests. “This can mean choosing a smaller event or one that is focused on a specific interest, such as specific organization or a military-affiliated event. It can be easier to engage at an event when you likely have something in common with other attendees."
Don’t forget to take along your business cards wherever you’re headed—even if it’s an open house with family and friends. You never know when you’ll make a valuable connection, so it’s best to be prepared at all times.
Be a giver
No matter what time of year it is, it’s important to offer something to those with whom you are networking.
"Networking often stalls when it feels like a one-sided relationship with all take and no give," says Rhoda Smackum, a UMGC career advising specialist and associate certified career coach.
People already have a lot of responsibilities at work and home, so you need to demonstrate the mutual benefits of your relationship. "Savvy job seekers take an interest in the people they meet and in their current contacts. They cultivate their contacts by making it clear that at some point in the relationship they will receive something in return," says Smackum.
Keep it real
In many ways, networking isn't much different than the other relationships you nurture in your life. However, because it is more formal, it’s easy to forget the human aspect. It’s good to have a game plan for an event, but if you don't allow yourself to really listen and are always thinking about what comes next, it will be difficult to make strong connections.
"Focus on the conversation at hand," suggests Ann Martin, a UMGC career advising specialist and a mid-life career changer. "Ask questions, listen carefully and take a genuine interest in others." She also recommends, "looking for areas of commonality." Let connections you meet in-person know you want to connect with them on LinkedIn or email. Then remind them of something about your conversation when you follow-up.
Follow up the right way
You have done the hard work and made some new connections. Don't drop the ball. "Make sure you do not neglect to follow-up with your contacts after the event," advises Smackum.
Smackum advises networkers not to expect too much too soon from new contacts. "When you meet contacts for the first time, it is better to give before you receive,” she explains.
Martin echoes this sentiment. She advises engaging without it feeling like there is an agenda and offers these simple ways to connect authentically with your online network:
- Comment on things people post
- Include some analysis or first-hand experience when you share articles
- Share content directly with select contacts based on what you know they are interested in
- Help your contacts make other meaningful connections
- Engage your contacts for feedback if there is a topic you know they are passionate about
Nurture your existing contacts
If you haven’t been in touch with any of your key contacts in a while, now is a great time to reach out to them. After all, every relationship in life requires attention, and your professional contacts are no different.
This could be as simple as sending a quick email or holiday card, or you could invite them to join you at an event that is relevant to them. Whatever you do, take a moment to connect with those who have already played an important role in your professional journey. These are connections you want to keep over the long haul.
Need more help?
UMGC's Career Services team is always here to assist you on your professional journey. Visit CareerQuest today to explore the career tools and resources available to assist in your career progression. If you have any questions, please contact your UMGC Career Services office at 240-684-2720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.