1. Don’t Forget Your business cards.
Imagine having a great conversation, making a wonderful connection, and realizing you forgot your business cards. Even worse, not having a business card to exchange in the first place. It’s a great idea to invest in cards, especially if you are between positions or ready to embark on the world of work. (I’m talking to you, Class of 2012.) For a small fee, you can show your talents and make a good first impression. But don’t overdo it. Passing out your card to everyone at the event is bad form. Hand it over ony when it is requested—never force your card on someone.
2. Don’t Talk Too Much.
The idea of networking is an equal exchange. The opportunity to connect with individuals in meaningful ways dictates a two-way conversation. The opportunity to meet new contacts means you need to listen. When it’s your turn to talk, stay away from conversation-stoppers like your personal health and risky topics such as religion and politics. Stick to current events. Stay informed. Find out who might be attending the event and do your homework.
3. Don’t Forget the Purpose of the Event
So you think you’re there to stand in a corner, eat great food, and enjoy the open bar? Think again. If you hang out at the food table, you are sure to meet many people, but the reason you attend networking functions is to network, build your contacts, develop relationships, and maintain those engagements. It’s not a competition to see how many business cards you collect. Find your purpose. What do you want to accomplish, what outcomes are you seeking, and why is this opportunity important to you?
4. Don’t Stretch the Truth
Brad Paisley has a country song titled, “So much cooler online.” The lyrics go like this:
“…’cause online I’m out in Hollywood
I’m 6’5, and I look damn good.
I drive a Maserati.
I’m a black belt in karate.
And I love a good glass of wine ….”
It’s easy to build your character online. However, it’s good form to be honest and authentic. There is a difference between being an engineer and running a train. Both have the same title, but are not the same positions. Make sure you are upfront, honest about who you are, what you do, and who you know. Burning bridges will follow you down a long and lonely road.
5. Don’t Expect a Job Offer from Someone You Just Met
Remember the purpose of the event (see No. 3). You are there to make contacts, build your network. In time, through developed relationships, your contacts will grow and so will your credibility. If you ask someone for a job, she may not have one to give. If you ask someone for advice and counsel, he generally will be more than willing to assist you, help you figure out your path, and help you learn from his own missteps. Never make your new connections feel used. Remember, after meeting someone you’ve added to your network, it is good practice to send a thank-you. Even a quick email is better than nothing at all. And, you never know when you’re doing business. The first meeting may not land you the position you’d hoped for, but it could open the door to your dream job down the road.