Whether you’re a college student or recent grad, there are lots of opportunities on campus and in the real world to network. If you’ve never been in a situation where you’re networking with potential employers or impressive professionals before (or even if you have), you may know that it’s a rather intimidating event to just walk into.
Here are some of my tips on how to schmooze with any employers or network with other professionals and hopefully walk out with business cards that could turn into valuable connections.
1. Wear an Outfit You Feel Confident In
If you’re networking with anyone, it’s typically encouraged to dress business casual. For women, this generally means a skirt and top, a pair of slacks and a top or just a dress. Many women also choose to wear a blazer and heels instead of flats to feel a little more powerful. Men have to dress business casual as well, and this usually involves a pair of slacks, a nice button-up shirt and a blazer.
While this dress code is important to adhere to, make sure that you feel very confident in your outfit choice. If you think the hem of the skirt is too short or that your shirt may not look right with your slacks, take the extra couple minutes to change into an outfit that doesn’t make you self-conscious or wonder whether that will be what costs you a valuable opportunity.
2. Stand Tall, Sit Straight, and Smile
Body language is everything when it comes to meeting new people, especially potential employers. The goal is to make these people feel like you’re confident but not cocky and that you really do care about your future.
If you’re just standing and talking to them, make sure you’re standing tall, and try to refrain from fidgeting around. If you’re sitting, make sure you aren’t slouched so far into your chair that just your head is popping out. Try to smile as much as possible; employers and professionals (like anyone else) love a good sense of humor, and if you look happy to be there and can get a smile or two out of them, you’re golden.
3. Sell Yourself
This may sound like an obvious one, but often times, self-promotion is the most uncomfortable aspect of networking with recruiters, hiring managers, employers and other professionals. It’s always difficult to find the balance between boasting and just sharing your experience. I’ve found that the most effective way to show your skills is to actually put the spotlight on the employer by asking good questions.
For example, if you have been an editor for your newspaper and are speaking to the editor of a well-known publication, you may say something like, “I’ve been part of my school paper for three years, but I’m wondering: How’s the dynamic in your newsroom?” This allows the person to respond and say something like “Over the last X years, I’ve seen so many changes in my own newsroom, like…” This way, you’re showing that you have experience without making it sound robotic or forced.
4. Do Your Homework
This is another seemingly obvious one but definitely a mistake I made. If you’re heading to a networking event or another opportunity to mix and mingle, it’s super easy to get caught up in the big names and connections and consequently, neglect to actually research people and companies instead of just going off your preconceived notions.
If you can, figure out who’s going to be at an event in advance, pick a couple companies or people who interest you and learn everything you can about those organizations and professionals. This way, you’ll have the ability to go up to the people and ask them specific questions about what they’re doing instead of just general ones that you’re able to come up with on the spot.
5. Touch Base
This is a step that I think many forget, but it’s one of the most crucial ones. After you speak to an employer or any professional, make sure you take time to send him or her a brief email when you get home.
In this email, you should mention a part of the conversation you had with this person that really resonated with you, include a copy of your resume (if appropriate) and thank him or her for taking time to talk to you. The most important thing? Remain professional in the whole email; refrain from dropping an “lol” or smiley face. People will appreciate this extra step, and it gives them a way to find you again if they end up wanting to reach out.
And if you want more tips for writing a great networking email, check out our templates here.
I wish you all the best of luck during this busy career season. Sell yourself well, dress to slay and go kill it!