I’ve been to my fair share of professional networking lunches, witnessing the fast and furious exchange of business cards and pleasantries. Some people are just brilliant as they work a room. They move effortlessly from group to group, smiling and chatting up all in their path.
Sure, I’ve certainly made a handful of contacts this way, but the best networking moments in my career have come in the form of intimate coffees and lunches. I guess I have always preferred “quality over quantity,” and as an introvert, these 1v1 sessions seem more natural for me.
As I’ve been navigating some of my own career decisions over the past few months, I’ve made it a priority to network. Still, as a busy working parent, juggling a full-time job, long commute and three kids, networking can seem impossible. So how do you find the time? And how do you network smart?
Here are a few key discoveries I’ve made in the networking game over the past few months, as well as a few tips to get the most out of your sessions in the shortest amount of time.
- Most people want to help, so be specific in terms of how they can help you. Are you looking to be introduced to a new contact in the industry? Do you want to learn about this person’s company? Are you asking them to keep their eyes open for potential opportunities for you in the future? Be specific. Don’t waste their time or yours.
- Make time to connect. As a busy working parent, it can seem impossible to find time for one more coffee date or lunch meeting, but you should aim to connect with your network throughout the year, not just when you are in dire straights. Perhaps you make a goal to meet with someone once a week, or once a month, or once a quarter, but get something on the calendar. It is an investment in you and your career.
- Schedule sessions that work into your schedule. With the ages of my kids, and the demands they have in the evenings, lengthy dinners and industry events just don’t work for me. I try to make a few evening events a year, and I coordinate with family members to help out at home, but in general I like to meet with my mentors and network over lunch and coffee. This feels less disruptive, and I generally can make an early morning coffee or mid-day lunch work without mass chaos at home. If it’s a close friend, perhaps you can even meet up for a workout session, or schedule a walk with an office colleague to break up the day and enjoy some sunshine.
- Buy the person a drink. If someone agrees to meet and give you one of the most precious commodities – their time – the least you can do if buy them a coffee, or pay for their lunch. It’s a nice gesture, and it is just good manners!
- Keep the person up-to-date on your progress. If you landed a new job, let them know. If you decided to go for the promotion, share the news. If you connected with one of their contacts, give them an update on the meeting. Send them a quick email, give them a call, or surprise them with a handwritten letter.
What are your networking tips?
How do you find time to connect with people in your professional network?