Networking Tips: A Step-By-Step Guide

I had the pleasure of hearing Lorraine Ball speak at a local conference at the end of March. She was so engaging and had a very practical approach to networking. Here are some tips from the expert…

Face-to-Face Groundwork

Everyone that attends a networking function has the same goal: to meet someone. If you’re hesitant about approaching someone think of it in this light: by approaching others you’re helping them achieve their goal of meeting someone!

Nuts & Bolts of the Introduction
  • Firm handshake and eye contact goes a long way. Try to remember names; this will impress the others you meet when it comes to ending the conversation.
  • Give what you want to get (e.g. “Hi I’m Karen from IPFW” will in turn give you his/her first name and where they work)
  • You have 15 seconds to introduce yourself before the other person gets bored, starts looking for someone else to talk to, or begins to make a visual to-do list in their mind.
  • Treat it like a tennis match and volley. Remember to ask “What do you do?” or “Tell me more about yourself.”
  • Listen to the other person. Identify people with whom you want to have longer conversations and who you should meet.
  • Conversation starters for each gender: Females – comment on clothing/jewelry; Males – comment on recent sports event… DON’T FORGET TO BRIDGE THE TOPIC!
Bridging the Conversation
  • If you can’t make the bridge from an unrelated topic, like clothes or sports, then DON’T GO THERE!
  • Be careful not to get stuck in a conversation that won’t benefit you or the person you’re speaking with.
  • Try a simple bridge phrase like: “… and what do you do?”
Ending the Conversation
  • Sometimes it’s hard to end a conversation, but it’s necessary for you to continue networking and meeting the people that would most benefit you, and by meeting you.
  • Try some of these enders:

“I enjoyed talking to you…” then step backwards. Most people will catch onto this nonverbal cue and follow your lead.

“I would love to talk with you further, can I have your contact information?” But, only ask for contact info if you plan on following up.
“I’ve taken up enough of your time, there’s a lot of other people I’m sure you’ll want to meet.”
  • Try the Hand-Off method of ending a conversation. If you know someone in the room that should meet this person, then pass them on to make a good connection.
  • Receiving Business Cards: Treat this card with respect and take a little time to view it in front of the owner. It’s your last chance to make the other person feel special by commenting on the card. Comment on things like the logo, style, their job title, etc.

Working the Room

If you’re not sure how to work the networking event, try these two strategies.
  1. Position yourself just to the right of the entrance. Most people will gravitate to the right and work the room in a counter-clockwise fashion. Not convinced? Picture your local grocery store and how it moves customers to the right when you first enter.
  2. Try another route. If you don’t want to remain stationary, then try walking to the left and continue in a clockwise fashion. You’ll meet everyone on your way around because they’re walking towards you!
If someone you want to meet is conversing with someone else, keep in mind these options.
  1. Position yourself in the person’s line of sight. Pay attention to that person’s body language. If he/she acknowledges you with eye contact, a head nod, or even a verbal hello then it’s your opportunity to enter the conversation.
  2. If you’re being ignored even after trying the previous option, then move on to another person. That nonverbal is telling you that he/she cannot or does not want to be interrupted at the moment. Maybe he/she will open up later and you can speak to him/her without causing negative emotions.

After the Networking

You have about 48 hours to follow up and remind your connections that you’re interested in remaining in-touch. Think about it, can you remember what you had for lunch 3 days ago? Most people start forgetting what’s happened within the 48 hour window. Send an email or a thank you card to follow up. Maybe make plans to meet for lunch if this is someone you really want to talk with further. These tips work just as well for JOB FAIRS since it’s a structured networking event.

Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. Connect with Karen via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Related posts:

  1. Tips for Introductions and Networking Offline
  2. Let Your Inhibitions Be Your Guide
  3. Ten Easy Tips for Networking Your Way into a Job

6 Responses to “Networking Tips: A Step-By-Step Guide”

  1. Excellent summary, Karen! I thought her tips were quite helpful as well:)

  2. avatar Michael says:

    I wouldn’t recommend using ‘sports’ and ‘clothes’ as your gender-specific conversation starters. Not only is that incredibly stereotypical (not every guy likes or knows anything about sports, same goes for girls and clothes), there are more intellectual topics to bring up than either of those, many of which will lend you far more credibility than quips about the Brewers will.

  3. Michael,

    Thank you for reading the blog and your response. I agree that picking more intellectual topics would be ideal when networking. The reasoning for adding these two options to start a conversation is that some people are shy or don’t know how to begin the conversation. Starting off with something superficial could help to break the ice. These were merely suggestions given by a proven networking pro, and not meant to stereotype anyone.

    • avatar Michael says:

      Thanks for the response. That makes sense. It seems like a happy medium between my initial comment and the article’s suggestions would be best; I’ve found superficial topics can start a conversation but not one that leaves a good impression with either participant. Again, that’s only my personal experience.


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