When we think of networking, we imagine an awkward conference cocktail hour filled with forced small talk and the palming of business cards. However, networking — when done well — can offer a fulfilling, even joyful way to grow professionally and personally. And you need not be a social butterfly to network effectively.
“The best networkers are introverts,” says Pete Parker ’93, director of strategy and careers at Tucson-based Fraternity Management Group, and the most recent Arizona Alumni chapter president of Reno SierraCats. “You just need to have interests and be passionate about those interests.”
Parker is an accomplished career coach and networking expert. Arizona Alumni Association partnered with Parker to host a recent Coaching Conversation to tap into his networking expertise. Here, he shares his 10 secrets to perfecting the art of networking.
1. Remember There’s Gold in Everyone
Everybody warrants a hello. That’s because you never know what can transpire. You could meet someone who can help grow your business or connect you to an opportunity in your industry. But you’d never discover that without introducing yourself. A simple hello can have profound effects — as long as you believe each person you meet possesses a nugget of greatness worth pursuing.
2. Listen Intently
We network all the time without realizing it — in line at Starbucks, at a wedding — so this tip comes in handy regardless of where you are. “As someone is talking, listen closely and note commonalities,” suggests Parker. “What interests do you share? Do you have similar backgrounds? Did you attend the same university? Do you share a birthday?” Leveraging the common ground helps foster a genuine connection.
3. Prep Your Elevator Pitch
What is your why? Or rather: What is your purpose for attending this function, for applying for this job, what is your purpose in life? “If you know your why, then you can develop an elevator pitch, a 30-second snapshot of you to share with people,” says Parker. The elevator pitch should be short and touch on who you are, what you’re about — passions, interests, goals — and what you hope to accomplish.
4. Provide Value
Don’t network expecting people to give you something. Instead, network as if you’re the one offering value to them. While having a conversation, Parker suggests the following:
• Provide feedback to a problem or idea.
• Offer to introduce others to people in their industry or community.
• Brainstorm new ideas.
5. Say Yes
“When you say yes, you put yourself out there,” says Parker. “When you put yourself out there, the more you can help others. And the more you help others, the better off we all are.” Parker explains that when you say yes — to assist with a favor or attend an event — you’re showing that you care. That “yes” will lead to the next offer, and the next, and so forth, each one building on the opportunity that came before.
6. Know Where to Network
If you’re networking for networking’s sake, it can be easy to lose track of which events you’re attending and even easier to get bored with the endeavor itself. That’s why Parker advises: “Be intentional about where you network. Choose places or events connected to your personal community or professional goals.”
“I recently helped out with a river cleanup in Reno,” says Parker. “There were 100 people there. In those situations, chances are good that you’ll end up working side-by-side with someone in a position of power or authority who’ll get to see firsthand your work ethic. This is the person who could connect you to your next opportunity, offer you a reference or even a job.”
8. Join an Industry Association
As an employee, you represent your company when you’re out and about. Participating in an association lets you act as a brand ambassador for your company while among peers and industry leaders. “Employers love this,” explains Parker. “Getting actively involved in an association will factor into an employer’s decisions for promotions and help your career advancement. Very few people take advantage of this opportunity.”
9. Extend the Relationship
After an initial conversation with someone, make the effort to grow that relationship. Parker suggests a few ways to do this:
• Send an invite via LinkedIn with a personal note specific to the conversation.
• Schedule a follow-up chat, perhaps over coffee.
• Mail a personal card thanking them for their time and referencing a detail or two from the discussion.
10. Stay Involved with Your Alma Mater
Says Parker: “I knew right away I needed to join the Arizona Alumni Association because it put me in touch with people across the world. Involvement should be what feels right for you: donate money, send updates to the newsletter or attend homecoming. Whatever you do, take full advantage of your alumni association.”
The Arizona Alumni Association and Bear Down Network offer many more ways for you to build your network.