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Networking, The Other Dirty “N” Word

November 4, 2014

Every young professional knows the importance of growing a personal network. We’ve undoubtedly read the science that says: the secret to getting the job you want is through networking. We’ve heard it from professionals, professors, and faculty. WE KNOW! But we still hate it. At least, I still hate it. I thought by this point in my life, I would be able to converse comfortably with any person at any time. Usually I can… except when I am surrounded by people who are infinitely more successful than I presently am.

Before law school I was in a sorority, worked in banking, politics, and sales. You would think I would be a seasoned pro at this networking game by now, but I’m not. Maybe it’s my introverted nature, but I just do not thrive well in large, party-type environments; this is part of the reason I avoid networking events. However, it’s a necessary evil for those who want to make it to the top. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned to use to get through networking events:

Repeat the last three words back to the person.
This sounds weird and if not used properly, it can come across incredibly awkward. The trick is to weave that person’s last three words into a sentence or question. It’s a way to show that you are actively listening and taking note of what they are saying. It also helps you to figure out what kind of follow up questions to ask. For example, if the last thing the person says is, “I love taking my
dog on my runs.” Your response would be something like: “Really? Where do you take your dog to?” or “What kind of runs do you take your dog on?” This way you can show that you are listening.

Ask questions about them – more than just what they do and listen so you can ask follow up questions.
Going to networking events will mean that you will tell many people many times your name, occupation, where you are from, where you went to school, etc. Although, those questions are all fine introductory conversation starters, but it’s important – especially when meeting someone who is more advanced in his or her career than you – to ask deeper questions. For example, you can ask questions like, “What made you want to get into this field?” or “How did you end up as a _____.”

The more you get people to talk about themselves the better that person is going to feel, and then the conversation will become more fluid. Everyone loves to tell their stories, and most people want to impart advice to young professionals. So, ask questions, but try to make them count.

When people join your conversation group, introduce the new member to the person you are speaking to.
I feel like this tip is just polite and good practice. I don’t like to leave the new addition standing there quietly, feeling awkward, so I always try to make the introduction quickly.

Usually, I’ll say something like, “Have you met Attorney Smith? He practices _____ in La Jolla.” It makes the attorney or whomever I am speaking with feel like they are important, which is also a good move when trying to build relationships, and it allows the new person to feel welcomed into the conversation.

Introducing new people to the group is also a solid way to get out of the conversation, so you can meet more people. You should never want to leave someone stranded; it’s uncomfortable for all parties involved. So, when someone joins the group, it’s a perfect time to politely excuse yourself to do more mingling.

I learned this in my sorority days. It’s a mnemonic that stands for “Smile, Open Posture, Forward Lean, Touch, Eye Contact, and Nod.” We taught this to girls during recruitment to help them make small talk with potential members. It’s essentially a way to encourage active listening and to make sure you are sending out positive body language. I think the most important part to remember is to smile and NEVER cross your arms.

When a person crosses his or her arms it subconsciously tells others that you don’t want to speak to them. If you have empty hands, don’t fiddle with them, but casually drape them in front of your body or behind your back. If you’re a man, try putting one hand in your pocket. Having positive body language is an easy way to make you seem approachable to those around you.

Always have a beverage in your LEFT hand.
I am a fiddler, so for me, I need to have something in my hands or I will fidget and look nervous and as uncomfortable as I feel. To stop myself from fiddling, I always have a drink in my left hand. Always try to keep your right hand empty and dry, so you are always ready to shake hands with whomever you may approach.

Networking, like all things takes practice. The more you do it the more you will come to recognize people at events and feel comfortable going up to them. The key is to jump in feet first and just do it. At the very least, get excited for the free food.