If you’re like me, this is the beginning of your favorite time of year. It’s football season! Autumn’s colors and cooler temperature are almost here. You can feel your passions for your favorite college and professional teams building with each day of training camp. If you’re a current or former player, the thoughts of the long, hot summer workouts are filling your mind. You’re ready for the season to begin and you’re going to actively follow your team’s progress.
However, if you’re sick and tired of your current career and you have a strong desire to change companies (or change your entire career), autumn is the time to start actively playing the networking game. Yes, networking can be viewed as a game for several reasons:
- Many organizations (leagues) have several networking events planned after the summer vacation season ends (the off season).
- There are strategies to doing it effectively (your playbook).
- You need to take action to execute your strategies (making the plays).
- There are measurable results found in the strength of your relationships and your bank account (the trophy).
- A lot like football, wouldn’t you agreeall
As with any game, you’ll want to have a plan to win the game. Here are four tips to include in your activities:
1. Show up on time and stay until the end
Just like an interview, on time means 10-15 minutes early. That’s because you’ll need to find a parking space and to sign in. You may want to freshen up a bit if the event is held after business hours. You don’t want to feel rushed. You’ll also get a jump on your networking activities with the organizers and the other early attendees.
Staying until the end is also valuable networking time because as the crowd thins, there’s more time for you to find out the goals and interests of those that are still there. It allows you to have more “face time” with those you met earlier and possibly set follow up meeting times.
2. Plan what type of contacts you’d like to make
Are you looking to meet with a business owner or a mid-level or upper manager because they’re in touch with the hiring decision maker? Do you want to connect with new attendees in a particular field because they may have connections that will lead to your new position? Do you want to meet with a sales professional because they call on a wide variety of clients?
All of those strategies can be used successfully if you pick and choose your networking events carefully. I recommend that you make a plan to meet 3 – 5 solid contacts with just one of those goals in mind. Doing so will give your networking activities focus, and after the meeting, a sense of accomplishment.
3. Plan the follow up with your new contacts
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to fail to do the follow up after the meeting. If you don’t plan to do the follow ups, there really is no reason for you to play the game.
Make a phone call, or send a card or a letter stating how much you enjoyed meeting them. Let them know that you’d like to meet with them again to find out more about them and their company. You may want to use an information interview format, or a focused conversation about their goals, accomplishments, and challenges. Be sure to keep the meeting 30 minutes, unless told otherwise.
Though you may be looking for a new position, make sure you focus your follow up activities on finding out more about your meeting partner. Showing genuine interest for their goals and interests will make you memorable down the road when a position opens that requires your skills and talents. After they’ve given you their information, they’ll likely give you the opportunity to do the same.
4. Reconnect with those you know
You can’t ignore those you’ve made contact with in the past. If you want them to remember you in flattering terms, make sure you greet them as enthusiastically as those with whom you’re hoping to meet.
That doesn’t mean spending the entire event talking to those you know. You’re there to make new contacts. Spend a few minutes greeting acquaintances. Ask what’s new with them and their business. If you remember that a specific event or challenge was coming up for them, find out how things went and offer assistance, if possible. To make a “soft break” from the conversation, you may also want to ask them to help you by having them introduce you to those you’d like to meet.
The summer season usually means a slowdown in networking activities. Make sure you’re ready to get back in the game in a big way by using the end of summer as your training camp for the networking season ahead of you.