Learning how to network is one of the most important things you can do for your career development. It’s a way to meet new people, make connections, and learn about job opportunities that could boost your income.
But networking can be intimidating for first-timers. What do you do if you’re not a natural schmoozer?
In this guide, you’ll learn how to network like a pro so you feel confident in any situation.
LinkedIn is my top recommendation for online networking because its entire purpose is to help you build professional connections.
If you’re not sure where to start with LinkedIn, follow these three steps:
- Make sure your profile is 100% complete. You’re 40x more likely to receive opportunities when you have a complete LinkedIn profile. Go the extra mile by adding a professional photo and banner to your page.
- Build your network. Connect with friends, alumni, old professors, mentors, coworkers, industry experts, and anyone else you can think of! Also, look for LinkedIn Groups for your college or any other organizations you’re a part of.
- Engage with others. This is where the actual networking happens. Set aside 10 minutes a day to comment on other people’s posts or congratulate them on status changes. You can also create your own posts a few times a week to share interesting insights and let others know what’s going on in your life.
Pro tip: if you’re connecting with someone you’ve never met before, add a friendly note to your invite to make it stand out. It could be something simple like: “Hey, [NAME]. I noticed we have [XYZ] in common and wanted to connect. Can’t wait to see where your career takes you next!”
Read more: How To Make Money On Social Media
How to network on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook groups
The same concepts apply — interact with current connections by liking and commenting on their posts and giving advice when needed.
For example, if you have a photography business, you could join a Facebook group for photographers and interact with people there. You could also slide into your favorite photographer’s DMs to let them know how much you admire their work. You never know where it may lead!
2. Take time to make a real connection
The goal of networking is to make a real connection, not collect a billion business cards. Shoot for quality over quantity. And remember that a handful of strong relationships could do more for your career than a hundred lackluster ones.
Here are my top three tips for talking to prospective employers, potential connections, and anyone in between:
- Be yourself. Let go of the idea that you have to be “all business” when networking. If you play it safe, you’ll be forgettable. Take a deep breath. Relax. And act like you’re talking to a friend. Try to find similar interests between you and the person you’re talking to.
- Go beyond surface-level conversations. Don’t be afraid to open up and get a little personal when you’re networking. If someone asks how you are, it’s okay to say, “Between you and me, this is my first networking event. I’m a little nervous. But I’m super excited to be here!”
- Be curious. Networking is kind of like a blind date. If you want to make a lasting impression, it can’t be all about you! If you show up and immediately ask for something before they even know you, you’re gonna get shut down. But if you’re genuinely curious about what the other person has to say and ask good follow-up questions (even if they’re a little off-the-cuff) — you’ll make a lasting impression.
3. Prepare your elevator pitch
If you’re like me, you may fumble over your words anytime someone says, “So, tell me about yourself.”
“Uh, I, umm… I write things for people. Like blog posts and stuff. And, um… yeah. I work at home.”
Skip the fumbling by making a killer elevator pitch you can recite at a moment’s notice.
For those who don’t know, an elevator pitch is a 30- to 60-second spiel about your job history and experience. Done right, it can help you land a great job opportunity or interview.
If you’re a new college graduate, your elevator pitch may be:
“I just graduated college with my [XYZ] degree and am looking for a job opportunity in the [XYZ] industry. I had an internship in this field my senior year and fell in love with the work. I’m excited to keep honing my skills with the right company.”
Pro tip: unsure about your elevator pitch? Record it and play it back so you can make sure you’re not talking too fast or leaving out anything important.
Read more: These 6 Millennials Make 6-Figure Salaries—And Can Help You Do The Same
4. Know what to ask for
Before you ever start networking, ask yourself what you want to get out of it. A job interview? An industry mentor? Career advice? Once you have your end goal in mind, you’ll be in a better position to ask for it.
But remember, the goal with networking is to make meaningful connections first. So, it may be better to ask for advice first before you jump straight to a favor.
For example, let’s say you’re talking to someone who works for your dream company. You walk up to them and say: “Hey, I’m absolutely in love with XYZ company and their mission. You, in particular, have what I would consider a dream job. What advice would you give to someone like me who’s just starting out but wants to get to where you are?”
This is a great question because it gets them talking about themselves. And because you led with curiosity and advice first, they may follow it up with, “I think I may know of a job opening that could be a good fit for you. Let me see what I can do.”
5. Go to networking events (online and in-person)
Networking events are the creme de la creme of networking. Everyone there has the same goal in mind — make meaningful connections with people who could help them in their career.
There are all types of networking events these days — in-person, online, formal, informal. Try mixing it up and attending a few until you find which ones you like most.
- Career fairs are best if you’re a job seeker or want to explore all your career options in one place.
- Chamber of Commerce events are best if you’re starting your own business.
- College alumni events are more informal and may be best if you’re looking to book informational interviews with other college grads.
- Professional conferences can help you build up your skill set and connect with other professionals and associations in your field.
- Workshops can help you connect with peers who have the same career goals as you.
How to prepare for in-person and online networking events
Regardless of whether your networking event is in-person or online, you can make your time there more interactive and productive by:
- Researching which companies or professionals will be there ahead of time.
- Making a list of target companies you want to talk to.
- Writing down potential questions you want to ask them.
- Preparing copies of your resume and/or business cards.
- Having your elevator pitch ready to roll.
6. Learn how to be confident
Being a great networker is all about confidence. But what do you do if the mere thought of networking makes your hands sweat? These five tips can help boost your confidence:
- Come prepared. The more prepared you are for an event, the less nervous you’ll be about it. Research your target companies and talking points ahead of time, and come prepared to make valuable connections!
- Wear something you love. When you look good, you feel good. Choose a networking outfit that looks professional and suits your style. Hate dresses and heels? Opt for a tailored pantsuit and loafers instead. Because when you love the clothes you’re in, you’ll automatically feel more confident walking into a room.
- Bring a friend with you. Knowing there’s at least one familiar face in the crowd can work wonders on your nerves. You don’t want to cling to this person at the event, but just knowing they’re there for moral support can boost your confidence.
- Watch your body language. Non-verbal cues are just as important as verbal cues. That’s why it’s important to smile, give a great handshake, make eye contact, and have good posture. These four simple things can make you look confident even if you don’t feel like it.
7. Send a follow-up email
Follow-ups are essential to good relationship management. Once the networking event is over, add the person on LinkedIn (or another social media account) and send them a quick follow-up email letting them know how much you enjoyed your interaction.
Not sure what to say? Use this follow-up email template for networking events:
Subject line: It was so great meeting you!
It was really great meeting you at [XYZ event]. I loved learning more about [INSERT INTERESTING THING YOU LEARNED ABOUT THEM]. So fascinating!
I just added you on LinkedIn so we can keep in touch. I’m always here if you need anything, so please reach out!
If you promised them something — like an introduction to a colleague, some resources, or a job interview, make sure to include those details in your follow-up email too.
And if you two really hit it off, you can ask them if they want to meet again for a virtual coffee chat or bite to eat.
8. Keep following up
Make an effort to keep following up with the people you meet at networking events — this is key to nurturing relationships.
It doesn’t need to be anything major. Even a short interaction every three or four months can help you stay in “loose” touch. For example, you could:
- Comment on their social media posts.
- Email them a link to an article you think they’ll enjoy.
- Ask them for advice on a challenge you’re facing.
- Wish them a happy birthday.
- Send them a link to a job opportunity you think they’ll like.
- See if they’re attending a similar networking event in the future.
9. Understand that networking is essential for making more money
If you don’t schmooze, you lose. Seriously, becoming wealthy has less to do with luck and more to do with developing habits that will help you succeed in life. And guess what? One of those habits is networking.
For example, one study on networking found that:
- 40% of people secured their current job through networking or a referral from a colleague or friend.
- 58% thought networking could have a “significant, substantial, or dramatic” impact on their income — even up to a 100% increase.
- 46% would go to their network first — before career sites or recruiters — if they were on the hunt for a new job.
The most connected people end up being the most successful, which is why networking is essential to making more money. It doesn’t matter if you just graduated college or are trying to land a higher-paying job, the payoff can be huge.
The good news is, you can network informally almost everywhere you go — online, at your local coffee shop, at the bus station, on vacation, while you’re out walking your dog, you name it!
The saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” holds weight. Sometimes having the right person in your network is all it takes to land your dream job and increase your income.
Successful people understand this — and they view every interaction as a great opportunity to network. It may feel a little awkward and uncomfortable at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it’ll become.
Focus on developing strong relationships first — whether you’re at an industry conference or just grabbing coffee with friends from college — then nurture those relationships by staying in “loose” contact. You never know when an interaction could turn into something more!