What Is Business Networking?

The article demystifies the art of networking. Aimed at those who are terrified by the thought of making contacts, the article discusses how to spot networking opportunities.

When you hear on the office grapevine that the networking opportunity of the year is fast approaching, does your stomach cramp in horror? Sure, you want to move up the career ladder as quickly as the next person, maybe even quicker, but you just don't have their networking skills and outgoing personality.

They don't have to wait for an annual networking event to start pressing the flesh. These people seem to find chances to network everywhere; they're always making contacts and being seen with the right people. So what are their secrets?

Spotting the opportunites

These professional networkers have discovered an essential truth about the workplace today. Networking can be done almost anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. Look around you on any given day. There are people everywhere - on the bus, in the elevator, in the lunchroom, in the supermarket, at the library. You can't tell who they are or what they do, just by looking.

Who knows, the CEO of the company you've been dying to get a foot in the door of might be standing right next to you in line for the movies. Would it kill you to be friendly, and possibly create a career opportunity of a lifetime for yourself?

As well as these chance encounters, there are many easy, non-threatening ways to organize little networking events. Let's call it mini-networking. Say you've had some pleasant exchanges with the boss of another department at your office. You've taken to chatting a little, and you seem to share a common sense of humor. What's stopping you casually suggesting going out for a quick sandwich at lunchtime? Try and time this encounter so that it happens sometime around noon. She has to eat sometime - why not with you?

Is there a favorite bar or coffeeshop that your work colleagues frequent? Have you never bothered to stop off for a drink after work because you're just desperate to get away from the politics of the workplace? It's interesting that, if you get a little more involved, office politics can start to get pretty interesting.

Allocate an extra half hour at the end of a workday this week and have a drink with the people from work. These kinds of informal gatherings are frequently a great way of hearing insider tips about imminent staff changes or new policies. Being among the first to hear this kind of breaking news can only work to your advantage.

Breaking into formal networking organizations

We all know that every industry has its regular meetings of interested professionals. There might be a gathering where a guest speaker talks about a topic relevant to a current industry issue, or it might be a monthly meeting of a professional society. These are serious networking

opportunities, but they can be too intimidating for the reluctant networker.

There are a couple of golden rules to remember when approaching such a group. If you've just become a new member, it's highly likely you'll be formally introduced to the rest of the group by the chairperson or leader.

Be prepared for this so that you don't look openly horrified when publicly asked about your interest in the group and your reasons for joining. Have a little response prepared. It doesn't have to be long-winded, a couple of

sentences is fine, but it should be eloquent and succinct.

You're here to make a great impression and meet people who can help you, so you need to come across as confident, and a worthy addition to their group.

Another helpful point to remember is that, at these formal networking occasions, there's definitely safety in numbers. If you have a mentor, this is the time to ask for a favour. Bring her along. She will be experienced at this kind of thing, and her own reputation may open some doors for you. Her credibility and manner can help to oil the social wheels a little.

If you don't have a career or personal mentor, bring along a professional friend who's likely to fit into this scene. That way, you won't be forced to stand on the edge of the group, smiling bravely and waiting for someone to take pity on you, and come up and start talking.

The other members of the group will notice that there are some new faces in the organization and will feel more relaxed about approaching and welcoming you if you're already chatting away and making an effort.

Naturally, it goes without saying that you should dress appropriately for these kinds of events. If possible, find out from someone who's already in the group what the other members of the society tend to wear. Your goal is to look like you belong, and not make a statement about how

different you are from the professional elite.

With these survival strategies on board, it's really not that hard to get out there and network. Now that you know what to expect, and what's expected of you, you can not only seize every passing networking opportunity, but also create your own.

© High Speed Ventures 2011