When Networking Works

  • Posted by: Chaloner

Last week I attended a great networking event in Boston through the Young Women in Digital organization. Melanie Cohn, their founder, discusses their take on networking:

“Networking is at the heart of all of our events. In order to facilitate conversation and keep it pressure-free, each of our events have a topic or theme that helps guide conversation so our members can chat with one another easily. I think the fact that it’s also pre-vetted as an event with women, young professionals who are interested in marketing, makes it fun to network because it’s so natural to swap stories, understand pain points, and in some cases, make a friend!”

I was there to lead a roundtable and felt encouraged that the content sparked discussion among these young women. They were forthcoming and constructive with their thoughts and helped each other as much as I hope I helped them. This exchange reminded me of the potential of networking and what we can do to facilitate useful connections.

Show Initiative
The young women who attended the YWD event are already doing a lot of things right. They have joined an organization which exists to connect early professionals to each other. And on a Wednesday night in the middle of a work week on a freezing cold day, they showed up, which is no small thing. Even though these women specialize in digital communications, they know that there is no substitute for these in-person encounters. The first part of networking is seeking out opportunities and following through. If it is a large event, make an effort to reconnect with people you’ve been in touch with before and make some new contacts too. If you are thinking about arranging a one-on-one meeting, don’t delay. “I love when people email me after to follow up and get coffee. One-on-one coffee dates have opened up my eyes to so many new things. Put yourself out there and have a coffee meeting–it can lead to opportunities you would have never imagined,” encourages Cohn. Reach out and make it happen!

Give and Take
Show real curiosity and be interested in the other person, beyond how they might be useful to you.  After getting to know them, you can express your needs but be sure to be clear and focused about what you are seeking. Cohn suggests, “Good networkers come prepared. I always love when people know their stuff. They come with their business cards, they’ve looked me up on LinkedIn and arrive ready with specific questions.” Also, consider how you might help the other person. Who do you know that they would benefit from knowing? This may be more difficult if you are networking with someone far more senior, but there is still opportunity to contribute. Could you introduce them to new social media tools? Depending on the nature of the meeting, what qualities and expertise could you bring to their company?

Make sure to follow up with a thank you or an invitation to meet.  After a networking event, it is a good idea to keep a record of whom you met, what they do and maybe even something you talked about so you can refer to that information when you follow up.  It may be that nothing concrete comes out of these contacts right away but it will open doors for you down the line.