On Friday 26 February I had the pleasure of taking part in a networking event for students of Lancaster University Ghana, put on by the Careers and Employability Department.
The format was ingenious – students had to network with a bunch of ‘fake CEOs’ from industry and try to ‘wow’ them into giving their business cards. The business cards were simply pink strips of paper and whoever received the most cards won. A great idea and a great event.
I enjoyed meeting the many students who approached me, and I congratulate them on their confidence and the engaging discussions we had.
The event got me thinking of some of the tips I have received in the past about how –and how not – to network. So here are my ‘do’s and don’ts of networking’ – which, judging by the excellent students I met from Lancaster, you all know already anyway!
- Always introduce yourself and shake hands firmly (but not too firmly) when meeting someone. It is nice to know your first name, and what you are studying, and what year you are in. Tell me.
- When in a crowded room, wondering who to approach, start with anyone standing alone, and not obviously occupied (i.e. on their phone etc). That’s a sign that they are open to networking. Also look at pairs who have been talking for a while – it may be that they are going to be finishing soon and looking for someone else to talk to. A group of three is often more difficult to break into, if they are all facing each other.
- Be informal and have a sense of humour. Ask them how they are finding the event, what their business is. The more you know about the person you are talking to, the easier it is to tell them something they might find interesting about you.
- Just because you are a student doesn’t mean you SHOULDN’T have a business card. Have some original ones designed. And don’t forget to have them with you, and give them out…
- Alternatively, take the person’s business card and follow up with a brief email.
- And make sure you do follow up, especially if you say you will. There is nothing more predictable than someone who says “It is nice meeting you. I will be in touch” only to not bother. Either don’t say you will be in touch, or follow through if you do.
- Any follow up should be concise, meaningful and relevant. It may be that you discussed an issue on which you have more to say, or you found a relevant article online. Following up in a relevant way demonstrates that you remember the conversation and the person made an impression on you. That makes you more memorable too.
- Maintain eye contact, keep your voice up (especially in a crowded room) and generally listen more than talk, unless you are asked questions.
- Above doesn’t mean you should be reticent or play dumb. Contribute to the conversation, and express opinions, but always in the spirit of hearing what insights a more experienced person may have to offer you.
- Make use of Linkedin. If you don’t have or want a business card, take theirs, and follow up with a link to your page (ensuring it is updated), or invite them to connect. It is an easy way to sell yourself without having to send a CV or a long email, which may be over the top when you have just met someone.
- Don’t dive in to a conversation by talking extensively about yourself (subject to 1. in Do’s above), unless the person asks, or you are sure they will be interested in what else you tell them! See 3. above also…
- Avoid interrupting when people who are already having a conversation. You may be really keen to speak to a particular person, but show courtesy by waiting for an opportunity to join or contribute to the conversation they are already having, or until the person they are speaking to moves on.
- Try not to spend too long talking to one person. Even if they are the main person you wanted to meet that night, they might want to talk to others, so don’t hog them! Five minutes may be appropriate, but all conversations have natural ebb and flow, and a natural conclusion. Be sensitive to that.
- Never speak with your mouth full (obviously). But it’s quite an art to be able to communicate appropriately at an event and ensure you don’t miss out on the tasty snacks. Keep practising!
- Try to avoid spending the event talking at length to people you already know. Networking isn’t a form of Olympic sport – you can of course take a break and chat to your friends. But if your purpose in being there is to network, make use of that.
- In a similar vein to 5., don’t go to a networking session and spend all your time standing in the corner Whatsapping on your phone. That’s a networking fail and you might as well have stayed at home.
- Some people network purely by giving their business cards out. This is unfortunate. I don’t really want your card unless I have had some kind of exchange with you, however brief, and I think we might have something to discuss in future. If I see you dishing out business cards to all and sundry, as if they were flyers for a disco, I won’t take you seriously.
- Don’t exaggerate or over-sell yourself. It is better to be straight talking and come across as a little bit modest, than to make people question if they can trust you.
- Don’t forget to say goodbye. If you spoke to a person who might be important in future to you, and you spot them leaving, go over and say it was nice to meet them. It is a very warm thing to do and can leave a lasting impression.
- Finally, quality rather than quantity is what counts on most networking occasions. It may be that you only exchange contact details with one or two people at an event. Don’t be disheartened – that person may be the one who opens a door to your dreams in life. Stay positive!
Writer: Korieh Duodu.
He is counsel with Ghanaian law firm Bentsi-Enchill Letsa & Ankomah.