Networking is all about people skills, and developing this is so essential in almost every career that we are surprised the skill is not taught in schools and colleges. If you are still in college, this is good, because this is where networking starts. In fact, many of the best colleges are more about the networking opportunities rather than the actual curriculum, which is going to change anyway in a few years. Make more friends and keep in touch, because everyone in your batch is going to be embedded in the same industry in a few years. You will be needing these contacts throughout your career for a number of reasons.For those in the technology industry, this is especially important as you are expected to do all sorts of things that might not intuitively make sense - such as making small talk. The best thing is, making small talk can just involve listening more than talking. Ask a lot of questions, and listen attentively to the answers. Be genuinely curious, and authentic at all times. If you do not know about a subject, again it is a good idea to listen. If you have a difference of opinion or do not agree with the other person's point of view, do not get irritated or riled up, and instead see what you can learn and take away from the interaction. It is always good to stay away from any kind of discussion on politics, religion or personal lives.It is also important to have a smile, and not complain about anything. During breaks in conferences, it is a good idea to read the mood of the person. They might not be willing to talk business all the time, so you can just as well form connections by talking about other topics. Remember to find common ground. If you have a negative opinion about a shared experience, keep it to yourself, and focus more on the positives. This is important within the office and while meeting others in a professional capacity as well. In Silicon Valley, the ability to play one particular board game - Catan is now considered an essential networking skill.
The best thing about networking in todays times is that you do not actually require social skills to do it.You can just as well network effectively by sitting in front of a computer screen at all times, just by using social media. Remember to be active on these sites, and maintain feeds that are not in conflict with your job. Remember that sharing political or religious views publicly on social media can drive away some people, so always be careful. Be active on social media channels, and engage with others whenever possible.
Whether in meatspace or online, the basic idea is to make all interactions a positive experience for the parties involved. Remember to always keep an ample supply of business cards handy, when going for conferences or industry events. Now these industry events are important, and it is important to go to as many of them as possible, and stick around after the event, as well as during the breaks. Do not be shy or hesitant to walk up to new people and exchange ideas (and business cards). When taking a business card, catch it with both hands, and read it.
Follow up such encounters with a message or an email, so that you can continue to keep in touch. It is also important to remember names of people when you meet them next, and there are apps to help you with that. It helps to set networking goals, such as meeting X amount of new people in a month. It also helps to plan and schedule such meetings.
Another aspect of networking, one that will become increasingly important over the next decade, is developing cross cultural competence. It is important to know where people are from, about their culture, customs and etiquette. Knowing about these things can make you much more endearing when delegates visit from other countries, or you travel abroad for international conferences. Always look up local customs and manners before such visits, so that you know how to behave at all times, and do not end up making a faux pas. TripSavvy and Commisceo-global are both good resources that have detailed country-by-country guides. If nothing else, at least look up the do’s and don’ts which will help you navigate the country better, even in a personal capacity. All this know-how becomes even more important when working on projects with people from other countries, or international collaborations.
Now, networking does not always have to be in a professional environment, which is why it is important to find like-minded people and participate in activities or movements that you are interested in. Take some time out every year to volunteer for a cause, perhaps related to your industry. You can do good and meet some new people at the same time. These connections may be stronger because you are united by the cause, and not just your profession. It is a good idea to make sure that your prospective employers are informed about your networking skills, but it does not look good to simply mention “networking skills” as one of the items in your resume. In fact, you will have to come up with creative approaches for including most of the skills in this story on your resume. One of the simplest tricks to convey your networking abilities in a resume, is by mentioning your volunteer work.
These are the essential networking apps
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