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Networking Tips: How to Work a Room

June 28, 2013
Networking can serve as a valuable strategy for getting a lead on a job, gathering information, or catching the special attention of a company recruiter.

Most of us are not born minglers. Practice and preparation will help you develop the skills it takes to be effective at an Employer Info Session, a Career Fair, or other serendipitous opportunities. As difficult or awkward as it may feel at first, the ability to meet and make a positive, professional impression on people will become ever more important as your career advances and develops. Here are some tips to get you started.

Check your attitude

Many of us are shy or reluctant to approach strangers in new social situations, so understandably it's not always easy to muster the energy to try and connect with people at networking events. That's why it's key to get mentally geared up before you even show up. Because your attitude often guides your behavior, you must overcome any negative self-talk that could hinder you from reaching out to others. Do these outlooks sound familiar?

  • "Why should I bother trying to impress this person? I'm only one of a hundred students this recruiter is going to see today."
  • "I don't think I know enough to engage the company reps in an intelligent conversation."
  • "I've never really been good at meeting people. That's just my personality."

Such negative thoughts prevent you from pushing past any social roadblocks standing in your way. The truth is that many, if not most, people have similar thoughts in group situations and are just as hesitant to initiate conversations. But if you change your attitude from negative to positive, you can instead take the lead. Remember:

  • People enjoy talking about themselves. Ask them questions to get them started.
  • People feel flattered when you show an interest in them and their work/organization. And they will reciprocate your demonstrations of sincere interest.
  • You have more to offer others than you might think; just believe it.

Redefine what it means to interact with "strangers"

When you join a new student organization or club, you share certain interests with the members. When you go to a party, you run into people you've seen in class or around your dorm. A networking event is not really all that different if you view it as an occasion to find what you have in common with other people there. Commonalities help "strangers" connect more easily.

  • Take the initiative to approach others, introduce yourself, and share a piece of information that could reveal the common thread you share with them.
  • During conversations, listen carefully to discover shared interests or goals.
  • Use your shared background or interests as the basis for sustaining conversations.

Prepare and practice your self-introduction

To avoid being tongue-tied when you try to start a conversation with someone you don't know, prepare a self-introduction that is clear, interesting, and well delivered. What you say about yourself will depend on the nature of the event, but in any case, it shouldn't take longer than 8-10 seconds. Although practicing your introduction might at first seem silly and artificial, it will eventually help you make an introduction that sounds natural, confident, and smooth. Here are a few examples:

  • "Hi, my name is Catherine Lee. I'm glad to have this chance to meet you and learn how a psychology major can break into the pharmaceutical industry." [Employer Information Session]
  • "Good morning, I'm Bryan Sampson, a former summer intern at your Los Angeles branch." [Career Fair]
  • "Hello, my name is Jessica Garcia. I'm a junior rhetoric major looking to find out what it's like working in public relations and marketing." [Career Speed Dating Event]

Risk rejection - it's not the end of the world

It happens. Some individuals may not respond to your introduction in the way you would like. If that takes place, don't take it personally and just move on. As long as you maintain an outgoing and friendly attitude, you can plan for continued networking success by:

  • Identifying the goals you want to achieve at the networking event before you go (e.g., to learn more about a career, to develop internship leads, etc.)
  • Keeping a healthy sense of humor.
  • Treating everyone as you would want to be treated. Aside from being the courteous thing to do, you don't know who might be helpful to you in the future.

And last, but not least, don't forget how important it is for you to physically move around and about when you're at a networking event. You can't work a room when you're sitting down! So get in there and show them what you've got.

 
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