If you're an office manager, your ability to network like a pro contributes significantly to your success in your role and your career opportunities overall. One of the best ways to expand your network as an office manager is by attending networking events. Be it an industry-specific conference or an entrepreneur meetup, you're sure to connect with other industry experts who can help you to grow professionally.
The key to networking successfully is to make a memorable first impression and lay down the foundation of a long-lasting relationship.
Here are 5 tips to help you improve your networking skills as an office manager:
1. Set Professional Goals
When you decide to commit to networking efforts or attend some events, it's important to first understand what you hope to get out of the experience beforehand. Whether your target is to look for a different job, find a mentor/peer group, or just to connect with the other experts, you need to set the minimum number of resumes to have handy or the minimum number of people you need to meet. This will allow you to immerse yourself in the event and interact with the targeted people in a more professional and focused manner without hopping around from one place to another in the event.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t meet other types of people or open yourself to other possibilities. Just focus on the decided targets at the event and get ready to come out with a tangible sense of accomplishment.
2. Do Your Homework
Business meetups and networking events are no longer just about exchanging business cards. Now it's time to strategically go to networking events and connect with people who are highly related to your career or business. It is smart to do research before attending an event to anticipate who you might meet. You might even choose events based on who might be there, or who is hosting the soiree.
It’s also wise to have a plan going into things. On the other end, make sure you take thoughtful notes in your phone between conversations or after the event, and make a plan to follow up with key acquaintances.
Here are the 4 stages:
Know before you go
Perform research regarding the companies that you're interested in learning more about or potentially working for. Know the names and titles of people you reach out to and make sure that you pop over to LinkedIn to find out what matters to these people before you approach them.
You need talking points. Asking specific questions to a target person or company representative signifies that you're dedicated to the industry and genuinely interested in knowing more about the company or individual. Ask them about their approach, their goals, the tools they like to use, or probe for their take on particular industry trends. Try to prepare a list before any meeting or event in order to fluently and confidently keep conversation in motion.
Your approach to note-taking may vary depending on how you’re conducting your networking. Chats and calls online allow you to take notes freely or even record the call (with permission). Emails back and forth make note-taking easy. If you’re meeting someone in person, it might be acceptable to take notes on paper as you go, or capture high points in your phone between meetings. At a mixer or event, you can make quick types or voiced notes in your phone between conversations so you don’t misplace important memos in the shuffle.
Some of the notes you might want to take could include ways to follow-up, goals or plans the person/company is entertaining, names mentioned, or questions to ask next time. Your notes should function to help you reach the goals you set earlier.
Once you’ve reviewed any notes and considered the value you could bring to another person or company, or which they could bring to you, reach out. Make sure any follow-up is concise to not waste time, and authentic to your voice. This brings us to our next point:
3. Be Authentic
At any networking event, it should be assumed beforehand that everyone is on their best behavior. Genuine smiles, handshakes, and direct eye contact are some of the most common gestures. However, being professional doesn’t mean you can’t also be authentic, funny, warm, or be yourself. In fact, you should. Being human and approachable empowers you to show people that you value their time and attention and that you are likeable.
Being your authentic self will also help you stand out in a sea of people who are just trying to fit the status quo. While a cold, professional acquaintance might connect on LinkedIn after the event, you can take it a step further by reaching out with a personalized message and a reminder of the dynamic, interesting conversation you shared. These little gestures keep relationships going and keep you top of mind when opportunities come up.
4. Follow The 3 Strike Rule
There are several ways to meet the people you hope to connect with. While it's not always possible to connect with people in person and it might feel easier to just network online, it is best to be face-to-face either way. This type of communication allows us to avoid most of the communication errors that befall us when we type or speak by phone.
Speaking face to face - even on a video call - also lets us communicate smarter. We can intuit the other person’s comfort level, intentions, and attitudes through their tone of voice, hand gestures, facial expressions, and spoken words. In the reverse, we can convey our own. The biggest issue with text-only or even voice-only communication is that people can interpret different meanings. With new acquaintances, it’s smart to learn these communication cues early to avoid misunderstanding.
The 3 Strike Rule highlights the importance of face-to-face connection. The rule states that text-only or phone-only connections should meet face-to-face (online or in-person) after 3 or fewer conversations. If they don’t, they probably won’t. If they do, they’ll deepen their relationship while it’s still early, learn each other’s communication styles, and find value quickly.
5. Build Momentum
Your networking strategy shouldn't stop after one event or after you land desired job. Instead, networking should become a natural, frequent part of your professional life. As industries and workplaces keep changing, you need to keep up. As different people fall in and out of your industry, you need to keep up.
The momentum to keep networking comes from finding groups you enjoy regularly as well as challenging yourself to try new events, new networking apps, and being open to meeting people in any setting. Even if you’re wary of networking now, you will gain momentum as you start to build an active community that will help you to grow as a professional in your industry.
Networking doesn’t have to be scary
While networking events can be awkward, intimidating and loaded with pressure, those are feelings that everyone experiences. The key here is to be authentic and simply try to build real connections - don’t worry about winning some invisible networking game or appearing a certain way. If you’re not comfortable talking about yourself, ask questions.
If you’re not comfortable walking up to strangers in a large event, attend small-group meetups or take a more outgoing colleague along for the ride. Most of the discomfort you feel about networking is in your own head and once you begin, everything will get much easier.
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