While there is no denying the importance of networking in the modern business environment, it is important to note that not all networking is the same.
ManpowerGroup South Africa’s MD Lyndy van den Barselaar recommends five networking practices you should leave at the door on your way to your next event or meeting.
* Don’t take friends with you to a professional networking event. Unless your friend is interested in landing a job or networking professionally, do not invite them. You are not attending a social gathering. Of course, the idea behind networking is to be social, but it’s a goal-driven social event, meaning that you should go alone so that you will not be distracted or tempted to spend more time with your friend than with your new acquaintances.
* Don’t be a wallflower. Use the networking opportunity to your advantage. Initiate conversations about yourself, the person you are networking with, and your career. If you don’t engage with others at the networking event, your chances of meeting someone that can lead you to your next job are nil. “Make it a point to meet at least three new people,” suggests van den Barselaar.
* Don’t just talk about yourself. The key to successfully networking for job prospects is to talk less about yourself and more about the people you are meeting. Ask them questions that get them to open up about their field, their needs and any other information that might be important. If someone has a job opening, ask about the job. “Be genuinely interested in others and you’ll make a bigger impression,” she says.
* Don’t be unprofessional. Make sure that you are dressed appropriately. If alcohol is being served, limit yourself to one or two drinks. Better yet, avoid alcohol altogether. Instead of hovering over the food table, focus on networking and work the room. Walk around and meet people, shake their hands, and introduce yourself in a professional manner. “First impressions are important, so ensure you are acting in a professional manner,” says van den Barselaar.
* Don’t show up late and leave early. Be goal-oriented. Show up early and leave near the end of the event. The key is to make the most of your professional networking as possible. Meet everyone you can, collect business cards, and look for opportunities that you can capitalise on in the future.
The idea behind professional networking is to meet as many people as possible, then to follow up on those contacts in the next few days while you are still fresh on their minds. “Develop an eye for opportunity and seize each one quickly,” concludes van den Barselaar.