The Game Plan for Networking

An overhead view of Career Fair in Mustang Lounge.

Written by: Amy Li, fourth year of Medical Sciences
Photo credit: Chris Kindratsky, Western Communications

Networking can be a daunting experience. As an introvert, the thought of entering a bustling social event always scares me a little bit. I find myself getting a bit self-conscious as I want to map out exactly what I want to say without making a mistake. Not to mention, networking involves a complex mix of hierarchical relationships and that plays a huge role in people’s behaviour.

But let’s not forget the value of networking. Each of us brings a unique set of skills, connections, experience, personal strengths, and academic achievements. Some of us may be bridges between different clusters of networks. Regardless of our background, we all have something to bring to a professional networking environment. Whether you plan to attend a networking event, are being introduced to someone, or want to reach out to someone on LinkedIn, here are several steps below that I recommend taking when networking!

1. Do your research and come prepared

Before attending a networking event, find out who will be participating in the event. If there is someone you’re interested in speaking with, find out more information about them.

2. Define your goals for networking

At this networking event, are you hoping to make a connection even stronger? Or perhaps you’d like to form new professional contacts. This is important to establish as there is only so much time to form meaningful connections.

3. Remember what you have to offer

When making new contacts, don’t be afraid to state what you have to offer in return. Often during networking, people will look out for their own chances without thinking about how they can serve their networks. One way to do this is to make mutually beneficial introductions. When you place yourself in the intersection between two networks, you become a unifying link between two groups that have common interests or problems that need solving. Another way is to connect your contacts with opportunities. For instance, when you are aware of a new job opening at your workplace, reflect on who may be suitable.

4. Have a clear request

One way to prepare for this is to have an elevator pitch ready. An elevator pitch is brief as it is essentially a 30-second way of promoting yourself and making an effective connection.

In this professional introduction, you will want to include:

  • A polite greeting
  • State your name and an area of interest
  • Mention a relevant personal link or why you’re interested in the company
  • Ask a question that’ll engage the person – a conversation starter

5. The importance of listening

The distinction between an okay conversation and a great conversation is the aspect of listening. During a conversation, a common rule is to be listening 80% of the time, while talking for 20%. By listening carefully to what they have to say, it allows you to generate more meaningful questions and/or open-ended questions, rather than asking something surface-level.

6. Purposeful small talk

When engaging in small talk, the questions should be clear and specific. Without a well-formulated question, the answers you’ll receive won’t be very helpful. Here are some examples of small talk prompts:

  • Rather than asking “What do you do?"
    • Ask: "What do you enjoy the most about your job and why?"
  • Rather than asking "What is your current role?"
    • Ask: "Which previous positions have impacted you the most?"
  • Rather than asking "Where do you currently reside?"
    • Ask: "Which place was the most interesting to visit throughout your career/studies and why?"

7. Manage expectations and follow-up to continue the connection

In order to follow up with the person, it’s important to send them a thank-you note or email. If they have LinkedIn, you can also continue the conversation on that platform. Whatever the case is, devise a plan for consistent communication if this connection is something you want to continue pursuing.

One thing I love to ask at the end of the conversation is: Can you suggest two more people who work in this area that would be willing to talk to me? May I use your name when I contact them? This way, I strengthen my current connection while having the opportunity to expand my network and seek new opportunities.

It’s also critical to manage realistic expectations. For instance, from these networks, what are we expecting exactly? Who will be arranging the future meetings? Will they be responsible for providing feedback and your professional growth in the future? Will they refer you to opportunities? Being mindful of these expectations will save you from a lot of resentment.

To prevent this, the communication should be clear and straightforward. Being respectful throughout also goes a long way. Lastly, periodically checking in with these contacts is totally suitable, as they may lack the organizational tools to get your requests done.

I hope these networking tips were helpful and good luck in your next networking experience!

Want to learn more about networking? Check out these networking events & workshops:

Jan 24: Careers in Federal Government Day
Jan 31 & Feb 1: Career Fair
Feb 6: Networking for Career Acceleration
Ongoing: General Career Workshops

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