9 Steps to an Effective Networking Strategy
This article is aimed at university/college students who seek an effective networking strategy to obtain quality connections.
Remember standing in the corner of the room at a networking event, having no idea who to approach and what to say? Well, I certainly do, and I bet many students had these terrifying experiences.
Nevertheless, networking is important, and many people are well aware of that. Effective networking may lead to the first job offer, new clients, or even lifelong friendships.
Thus, most of us choose to attend networking events as it is supposed to be the holy grail of effective networking. However, it is not easy to obtain quality connections at these events, due to large crowds. The crowd is a big barrier to establishing a genuine connection with a person.
Hence, I developed a simple strategy that helped me meet at least 20 people per month for coffee chats without attending a single networking event. Please remember to treat your potential connections with respect and value their time.
There are nine steps to the strategy:
1. You must have a LinkedIn page
A LinkedIn page represents your online image and it is your personal branding tool. The amount of leverage you get from starting your LinkedIn page in your early career is incredible. There is a handy guide to establishing a great LinkedIn page if you still don't have one: How to Create the Perfect LinkedIn Profile.
However, most of you probably already have a LinkedIn page, so let's move on.
2. Find those valuable connections on LinkedIn
You may already know who you would like to get in touch with, maybe a manager, VP or CEO of Lyft, let's say. Otherwise, you may need to do some research. I suggest using a fantastic LinkedIn tool called the "Alumni Tool." This tool allows you to find people who graduated from the same university/college that you did. Plus, you can apply a number of filters to help yourself discover individuals with whom you wish to connect.
Next, choose at least ten people with whom you would like to grab a coffee.
Pro tip: before meeting with top-end executives, get in touch with junior level employees first. Make sure you know "insider information" because these details will prepare you for your communications with targeted connections.
3. No need for a Premium Account
You are now ready to write your first message to the person—let's say his name is Tom—but, guess what, you need to have a premium account to message Tom; this requires $60/month and, considering you wish to message different people, it does require you to break the bank.
Fortunately, there is a free way around it.
First, send connection requests to all those people; once you are connected on LinkedIn, there is no need to pay – you can message them for free. Voilà!
Based on my experience, nine out of ten people will connect with you if you have a decent-looking LinkedIn profile page. This may, however, take a few days/weeks. Remember, those are all very busy people, and they may not monitor their LinkedIn profile regularly.
4. Ask them for a coffee chat
Many would get stuck at this step, not knowing how to start a conversation with a person they have never talked to before. It happened to me too; thus, I would like to share my way of beginning a conversation. Feel free to use it or any other modification of it:
"I was doing some Harvard Alumni research on LinkedIn and came across your profile. Based on your profile you work at [Company A], I am very interested in learning more about this company. I've just started doing some career research, and I'm trying to talk to as many people as possible to get some insider information. Would you be able to meet up with me for coffee to chat sometime during the week?
As I said before, people you are trying to contact may be very busy. Respect their time and offer them different date and time options to meet with you.
5. Pay for coffee/lunch
When you invite a person for a coffee chat, you are paying for coffee. First, this is business ethics in practice. Second, the person spends time with you and his/her time is very valuable, so buying coffee/lunch for that person is the least you can do to pay them back.
6. Ask genuinely interesting questions
Come prepared. Have at least ten questions prepared beforehand. Think carefully about the questions you would like to ask. Questions don't need to make you look smart; instead, ask something you are genuinely interested in learning more about. Draw from your experiences, and questions would come to you.
As an example, you may ask, How did you start at [Company X]? What does your day-to-day work look like? How do you differentiate your brand from others?
7. Listen… Actually, LISTEN
Many people I know simply fail to listen to what their companion has to say. When you become nervous, you focus on what to say next and forget to listen to your companion. The best thing to do is to turn off your nervousness, but it is not easy.
If you are still nervous, just grab a notebook and take notes. It's that simple!
8. Don't ask for a reference
During your conversation with the person, he/she is assessing you based on your fit with their firm. Make a good first impression, and your connections will offer you a reference. Again, don’t forget to treat your potential connections with respect and value their time.
Have a great time networking!