Networking—one of those words that gets tossed around constantly. Some are professionals at it, and for others, it can cause instant cringing. I fall into the latter camp. Despite how much the idea of having to walk up to people I don’t know and convince them that I am interesting enough to have a conversation with makes me want to run and hide, even I can’t deny how important of a skill it is. Something I have been intentionally developing this summer are my networking skills, and to be honest I do feel like things are improving. If you feel like you lack the expertise and ease to navigate networking, here are some rules that I have learned that can help you as well!
Give and you shall receive: This is almost the most important rule. Do not walk into networking situations thinking, “What can I get out of this?” Don’t be selfish in the process. What can you do to help others? Be interested in what they have to say, what they are working on, and how you can help them get to where they want to be. And from there, people will be more likely and eager to see how they can return the favor. Networking is a give and take relationship, not just take.
Don’t wait until you need it: It’s never too soon to begin making connections. Even if you think networking is exclusively for entrepreneurs or those hounding for job opportunities, networking is essential for anyone in any place of your life. Whether it is your first year in college or you are a seasoned veteran, mingling is a skill that, like most things, improves the more you practice. The most powerful networking experiences can be at the most random times.
Don’t always network a specific purpose: If you have a direct need, it’s almost natural when you walk into a room to focus on whoever you think can address your focus. By doing this though, you may overlook someone who can solve an even bigger issue you are facing. Anyone and everyone could potentially help you, even if it’s just with a word of advice.
Share: Be open. In order for people to know how they can potentially help you or collaborate with you, they need to know what’s going on. Tell those you come in contact with what you’re doing and what your hopes are. Obviously, they don’t want to hear your whole life story (unless they ask, then by all means), so creating a 10 to 30 second spiel that you have prepared will make this process a lot easier. This elevator speech should be designed with the idea that Oprah or Bill Gates or someone who could instantly make your dreams come true walks into an elevator you are in. What do you say to hook Oprah within the time it takes to get to her floor and get off? Once you work this out, practice, practice, practice. If you feel comfortable with it, you will instantly be able to whip it out when someone asks, “So tell me about yourself?”
But what if I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go? This is one of the primary sources of my network anxiety. Whenever I am in networking situations, the first question is about my major, and right after that? “What are you going to do with that?” That’s kind of where my train of thought stops. But there are still ways to leverage what you do know One of my co-workers at my internship gave me a great format to follow: start with what skills you are developing, what interests you and what you picture for the future. This gives everyone a great image of how they can potentially help you. For me, this goes something like this: My name is Anyssa Reddix. I am currently studying business and journalism, and I absolutely love event planning and designing curriculum. I enjoy developing others and working with young kids and teenagers. In the future, I imagine working in some sort of mentoring or managing role while still developing marketing skills.
Follow up and take care of the relationship: Once you make the connection, be sure to follow up and follow through. Send an email after the initial email sharing how much you enjoyed the conversation and that you are looking forward to speaking again. Include specific highlights from whatever it is you all discussed to refresh it in his or her mind. This will open the door for later communication. You don’t have to contact whomever you’re connecting with every other day, but make a note to keep a presence in their life.
So with five simple rules, I have been able to transform my networking style. Store some of these tips in your back pocket and watch your networking confidence blossom!
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and is republished here with permission from the author.