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Networking from nothing: 6 tips for a great first impression

“Hi, I’m Alex Eaton. I’d love to get to know you and find out more about what you do. But right now I’m too focused on not tripping over myself or breathing fire on you because the buffalo wings I had for lunch were one sauce too spicy.”

This little monologue has undoubtedly passed through my mind on multiple occasions when I’ve met people for the first time. Especially if they happen to be reputable or someone I admire. If I’m lucky, it usually ends up coming out something like this:

“Hi, I’m Alex Eaton. It is really great to meet you.” (Include overeager grin and sweaty palms)

Here’s the thing, other than an actual job interview, networking is up there with the most stressful events college students and young professionals experience. Being forced to put yourself out there for total strangers can throw many for a loop. It isn’t easy, but it is definitely one of the most important things you can do in the beginning of your career. If you read self-help or other early career blogs you will read many different percentages claiming how much networking means to your job search compared to actual skills. It is obviously very tough to quantify, but there is no denying the importance of building a network. The people you meet and build trust with will be pivotal in the progression of your career.

This experience can be even more difficult if you start from scratch. I am an aspiring marketer whose dad has an engineering background and whose mom works in performing arts. So when I started searching for internships in marketing I couldn’t lean as much on family friends or other connections. Here are some of the things that I believe helped me begin building my network. I hope they can help you on your journey.

1. Show respect

So obvious it hurts to write, but it needs to be said. Be a decent human being. Mind your manners and be polite. Here are a couple things to remember and focus on:

  • Please/Thank You – You can never say it too much. Seriously.
  • Mr./Mrs. – Always lean on the formal side when addressing someone you are trying to connect with. You run the risk of looking arrogant if you think you are on a first name basis with someone right away, especially if they are older or hold a higher position than you. Let them tell you how they prefer to be addressed, until then stick to the safe route.

2. Persistence

Persistence alone could be the difference between landing an offer or not. The goal of persistence is to keep your name in the mind of the person you are trying to reach. The difficulty in this is how touchy it can be. You don’t want them to forget you, but you don’t want them to be annoyed by you. At a younger age, I have found it is better to look more eager than to risk looking aloof. You will find the sweet spot with experience.

Persistence can manifest itself many different ways. At its most basic level, persistence is following up. If you say you will follow up with a phone call in a cover letter, do it. Just did an interview? A thank you note should be in the interviewer’s inbox by the end of the day. It could also mean social media. If your target is on Twitter, interact with them. Not every day, but once a week at least never hurts. Find a topic they are tweeting about that you can contribute to and get involved. Even if you don’t have a life-changing insight (there is a very good chance you won’t) the effort will be noticed.

3. Be authentic

Chances are the businessman or woman you want to meet will be able to tell after 30 seconds whether you are full of crap or not. What does this mean? Don’t even try to be someone you’re not. Do you even know what JavaScript is? Can you describe what an international expansion strategy entails? No? Then don’t try to act like you do. There is no shame in not knowing something. Everyone, even the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, has something they do not know. But what you can do is show a true interest in learning. Are you speaking with a developer about a JavaScript project they are working on? Be honest. Say you haven’t coded before and aren’t familiar with it, but you’d love to hear more about their work and what it entails.

Being authentic doesn’t just mean being yourself. It means being honest with yourself.

QUICK TIP: Use not knowing something as an opportunity to learn and show ambition, not an excuse or downfall.

4. Be punctual

A great guy I know gave me this sage advice: “Being late shows that person you don’t care about their time.” I should honestly leave it at that. Showing up late can hurt more than you would like to know, so don’t do it. If this was a ranked list this would contend for #1.

5. Find something in common a.k.a. do your homework

A business relationship doesn’t always have to be solely about business. Find something in common that you can talk about other than business. Whether it’s family, sports, tiddlywinks, or underwater basket weaving, find something you can talk about so you have a chance to get to know them personally. This may require you to do a little research beforehand. Look at their online presence or some work if they have it posted, and if not then don’t shy away from simply asking. It can make for less awkward conversation and a more memorable experience… (segue, nailed it)

6. Be memorable

The points so far have definitely aired on the conservative side. But the last thing I want is for you to leave this blog post thinking you need to be a robot who doesn’t make mistakes. As I talked about in my post on personal branding, I believe your brand should say something about who you are. Your personal brand starts with that first interaction. Being polite, punctual, and persistent (should have named this post the P’s of networking… hmm) are strategies that will help you build a network and trust, but at the end of the day it will be who you are as a person that determines whether the relationship is successful or not.

Get out there and don’t be afraid to meet as many new people as you can. If you can turn these tools into habits you’ll find networking will not only become easier, but you will enjoy it. It certainly has for me, and I hope it does the same for you.

Have thoughts on networking or simply want to chat? Comment below or tweet me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo Credit: InternsDC

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