A guest blog with Cyndee Woolley, APR, a consultant in public relations and the author of Building Brand [You]. For more information, visit www.BuildingBrandYou.com.
In speaking with seasoned executives, one of the biggest lessons they learned through the course of their career is the value of building a network. Often young professionals are thrown into the waters and take years to hone their networking skills – losing valuable relationships along the way. Hopefully, these tips will help you stand out from the crowd and build your network.
Take time to think through your brand
With limited professional experience, many young professionals haven’t taken the time to develop a brand for themselves. Instead, they have a haphazard, thrown-together image that may appear polished externally but slows them down professionally. Your brand is more than a sharp suit and fancy business card. It is about developing a clear vision of your ideal future and weaving in important elements like your values and priorities to reflect a solid brand that people can understand.
Target your networking
It is important to be open and receptive to new ideas and possible work relationships. After all, many opportunities come from unexpected sources. However, with a realistic understanding of your time limitations – both professionally and personally – it is perfectly reasonable to approach your networking efforts in the same way that you do a sales project. Focus your efforts on the people who can help advance your career skills and lead you to your ideal life. Beyond sales prospects, consider networking with these three types of individuals:
• Mentors – Keep your eye out for mentors. These individuals are living the life that you would like to enjoy, or perhaps have a skill that you would like to develop. Don’t ask them to be your mentor, but ask them for coffee or lunch to learn about what they do.
• Peers – It is important to have a network of peers that are in the same industry as you. They will be your resource for referrals to potential vendors and possibly clients that they can’t handle. By working together, you can both develop your professional skills and advance your career.
• Inspirational Relationships – In a competitive atmosphere, there can be great pressure to perform that can lead to burnout and frustration. Inspirational relationships can be as simple as belonging to church, Rotary, or Kiwanis. But, don’t overlook that best friend who always leaves you charged up and ready to take on the world or the child in your life who helps you see things from another perspective. Keep these relationships strong during the good times so that you can pick each other up during the really hard times.
Learn about professional etiquette
I had dinner with a young professional that worked in a very casual industry. It wasn’t surprising to see him in khakis shorts and a t-shirt instead of a suit and tie. But, when we ate dinner, he slurped his coffee and spoke with his mouth full – complete with little hunks of food flying out at me. This doesn’t just happen with young professionals, I’ve known a few adults that I refuse to have a meal without protective eyewear!
Take the time to learn about the nuances of professional networking. Small details like carrying your cold, wet drink in your left hand to keep your right (handshaking) hand clean and dry can make a big difference in how you are remembered.
Plan out some common conversation points
Networking can be intimidating, especially in that awkward silence when you don’t know what to say next. Remember, that other person is probably feeling the same way. Take the time to plan out a few questions or conversation points that will help you connect personally and kill the silence. These conversation points could be simple questions like:
• Tell me about the most exciting thing that happened to you this week. Be prepared to share one of your accomplishments too.
• What projects are you working on right now? This will give you more insight into their professional experience than just their job title.
• If you weren’t here right now, what would you be doing? Hopefully this opens up some personal hobbies to share interest in.
• Did you hear about….? Watch the news and keep abreast of what is going on in your industry for these types of questions.
Listen and observe before you speak
This tip has been shared frequently as it relates to social media, but it still applies in your professional networking. As a young professional, you might be eager to share your advice, projects, or experiences with perfect strangers in a networking setting. While you think you are being fun and friendly, other people might consider you abrasive and rude. Take the time to listen and observe the culture of the group that you are in before you rattle on and on. It will help you gauge what is socially acceptable in the group and gain the respect of the other members.
Learn more about building your brand at Cyndee Woolley’s course Building Brand [You].