Building a business network

While it can be intimidating to go to a networking function, knowing what to do can make the event a lot more successful.

Anne Shaffer
Associate Features Editor

When looking for a job, it is important to know what to do. Knowing the skills a company requires is extremely important. However, there is one other important thing that you should know.
Actually, it is not a thing. It is a who.
Probably you have heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It is hard to get your foot in the door without having some contacts. The best way to get these contacts is through networking.
In essence, networking is making contacts and expanding the circle of people that you know, building and cultivating relationships so that they can help you when you are looking into the world of work.

While it can be intimidating to go to a networking function, knowing what to do can make the event a lot more successful.
While it can be intimidating to go to a networking function, knowing what to do can make the event a lot more successful.

However, according to Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, a professional networking company, and a writer for Entrepreneur.com, networking “is much more than showing up at networking functions, shaking a lot of hands and collecting a bunch of cards.”
Misner says that a great many people go to networking functions and simply collect a handful of business cards and call it a day. However, these people do not reap the same rewards from networking as people who do it effectively.
What could be a problem is that college students may not have a lot of experience in the world of business networking. How do you approach something that you have never done before and do it well? Here are just a few tips to get started.
1. Create a one-line description: Debt-free Scholar calls it the “Elevator Pitch.” Describe yourself in one line or less—about the amount of time it takes for a trip in the elevator. The pitch allows you to explain all the important things about your personal career in a short time to a new acquaintance.
However, Colleen DeBaise, former small business editor at the Wall Street Journal and current special projects director at Entrepreneur.com, encourages networkers to keep exchanges at large functions “fun, light and informal” because networking is all about building relationships. The idea is not to go for the “hard sell” but to make a connection. Be able to explain yourself quickly but conversationally.
2. Don’t give a speech: DeBaise also says that people who “commandeer” the conversation might put out the wrong image. Debt-free Scholar suggests the 80-20 rule: listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent of the time. It might not always be possible, but it is better to listen than to force yourself into the spotlight. “Be a conversationalist, not a talker,” says DeBaise.
3. Ask questions: Easy questions get the conversation going and help to keep it going once it gets started. It can be daunting to walk up to complete strangers at a conference, for example, but by asking the person why they are there or where they are from can get them talking, and that is where a conversation begins. Debt-free Scholar even says asking someone what good book he or she has read can get the ball rolling.
4. Be passionate: DeBaise says that “talking about what you enjoy is often contagious.” If you appear passionate about what you want to do, about your goals, and so on, other people will be more likely to open up and talk about what they enjoy, potentially creating a conversation which stands out in the mind of the person you are talking to.
5. Follow up: If the conversation goes well and you believe the contact might be helpful, ask how it might be best to stay in touch. “Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you,” says DeBaise.
Be careful not to pester. Paul Bernard with the Huffington Post says that you should check in with your contacts occasionally to see how things are going, but you should not get in touch every day.
While not every person you meet will be the business contact you have been dreaming of, it is important to know that anyone can be helpful. Friends from high school may have parents who work in the field you want to enter. You may go to a job fair and encounter someone there who knows someone else in a company that interests you. The important thing is to be memorable and start cultivating a relationship.