I joke that my dad “pimped” me out for my first networking event. Let me clarify…
For starters, I work in the same industry as my dad which translates into running in similar circles. My dad inspired me to get into the financial planning industry and has been my biggest cheerleader as I’ve grown with my company into new roles. That being said, one day he was meeting with a client and they began talking about networking events in Chicago. This lead to my dad volunteering me to go to an upcoming event with his client – who I’ve never met.
As for it being my “first” networking event, I mean this was the first networking event that I attended alone not knowing a single soul, including the person bringing me as their guest. I was extremely anxious walking into the event but the night ended up as a success making connections with some very talented and driven individuals.
Since this “first” networking experience, I have joined a local professional woman’s organization and have sought out (and even hosted) networking events throughout the city. Not every experience has led to meaningful connections but they have served as learning experiences and have left each one more confident than the last.
Below are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Network like a Woman
I recently sat down for coffee with a new friend and we were chatting about our networking explorations and swapping stories. She was telling me about a close male friend of hers that she jokes “networks like a woman”. She went on to explain that men network to make sales and women network to make friends.
I had to stop and let that sink in. It was a fascinating observation that holds so much truth when I compared my own experiences networking with men and women.
For women its a different game, networking is all about building a relationship that could eventually turn into professional connection or, better yet, a friendship. I find that in networking conversations with women, very little time is spent on value pitches and industry talk. The majority of the conversation is spent learning about each other, shared values and interests. If you find yourself in a conversation lull, a great question to ask is about their professional journey. This is a great conversation starter and can uncover a topic that you can begin bonding over.
The other element of networking like a woman that I LOVE is that women approach networking events like a team sport. The goal is create synergy and connections that will lead to professional or personal growth. I’ve found that women are so welcoming and willing to lift each other up and support one another endeavors, “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
Don’t be Surprised…
When they ask you what you do for a living or how business is going. These are the most fundamental questions when it comes to networking so be prepared to answer them.
I found myself tripped up by these question. Silly I know, I should have expected this, but I have a really hard time talking about myself. I think this is a common problem for people, especially women, to talk about themselves and the good things happening in their career. Get out of the shadows and let your light shine. Spend some time before your next event and think through, and even practice, what you want to say. The more times you practice, the easier it will get!
Be a Go Giver
From my recent exploits in networking, I have seen a pattern emerge. To some this may be a no brainier but for someone new on the scene it took me a minute to catch on. At the conclusion of any conversation or meeting, the person I was meeting with asked me who I was looking to connect with.
I had read about this concept of being a “Go-Giver” in the book by the Bob Burg but this was the first time I saw it in practice. The basic concept of being a go-giver is to give more than you receive. Applied to networking, this means asking how you can help the other person rather than asking them to help you.
I was caught off guard the first time I was asked and probably gave a really poor answer. Much like the piece of advice above, I have since come to these conversations ready with an answer to this question.
The other side to this piece of advice is to ask them same question in return. Find out who the other person is looking to get in front of and find way to facilitate a introduction. This is what allows our networks to be ever expanding and allows you to begin building a reputation as a connector and “go-giver” which will attract future networking opportunities.
I can’t imagine this will be the last time I post on this topic, I’m confident I will continue to be a student to the school of networking. I hope you found my first few networking lessons helpful and that they allow you to grow as you begin to network with others professionally and personally.