Networking for Dummies

In this week’s blog, Director of the Institute on Political Journalism, Joe Starrs, gives advice on a very important professional development tool: networking.

Some people call it “schmoozing” or “pressing the flesh” or “working the room.”  The more professional term, of course, is “Networking.” Whatever you call it, the truth of the matter is this: learning the art/skill of networking is a key component to being a professional -particularly here in DC, where making contacts can make all the difference.

 “She’s such a natural!” We all know the type of person who is a natural networker. She glides effortlessly about the room, a handshake here, a witty remark there, an ever present “I’m in the know” type of look on her face. If you’re that type of person…stop reading. You don’t need this. 

If you find networking difficult or simply not enjoyable than you should continue reading. If you tend to be an introvert or simply don’t know “how” to network, here’s a little networking cheat sheet.

“What an impressive fellow!” At the heart of networking is your ability to meet people and make a good impression. In DC you’ll have ample opportunities in a variety of venues to meet people and increase your network of contacts. Here are a few tips for making a good first impression:

  • Have a firm handshake.
  • Look the person you are meeting in the eye.
  • Repeat their name to help you remember.

“Excuse me, but I think you need to know me.” Starting a conversation in a room full of strangers is not always easy. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look for common areas of interest – sports, school and hometown are fairly safe areas to explore.
  • Compliments: Sometimes a polite compliment can be a good way to start a conversation. “I like your tie” or “That’s a nice dress”. Obviously you want to tread carefully if you are dealing with the opposite sex.
  • In a crowded room don’t always seek out the big wig. Find someone who is not speaking with anyone and introduce yourself. A good opening line is “Hi! I’m Joe; I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”

“Get out of my way! I’m trying to meet people!”  Every day etiquette and common courtesy are key ingredients to succeeding in life and in networking. The founder of Dominoes Pizza was asked what the secret to his success was. His answer: Treat EVERYONE you meet as if they were the President of the United States!
Here are a few more tips:

  • Be nice to everyone (especially assistants and receptionists)
  • Agree to disagree
  • Argue the point not the person
  • Be polite and courteous when stating your objection
  • Be a team-player
  • Give credit when credit is due
  • Pull your weight
  • Use “we” for group projects not “me”
  • Listen and pay attention
  • Watch your online profiles

“Are you part of my network?”  Networking is more than just collecting business cards at a reception or conference. Part of what can help build up your network is to identify various groups of people that may already be in your network.

Some of these groups include both professional and personal contacts. Write down a list of people you know from the following:

Professional Contacts

  •  Other job hunters
  • Former or current supervisors
  • Co-workers
  • Professional associations
  • College alumni association
  • Online networking

Personal Contacts

  • Family/friends
  • School groups: social, civic, etc.
  • Volunteer activities

Networking is never finished. Throughout your career you’ll need to maintain connections and keep making new professional contacts. Whether you are trying to expand your client base or looking for a new job, networking is key.

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