I have been giving a presentation on networking to young professionals for a couple of years now. I always feel good about motivating young people to try networking by encouraging them to focus on building their skills and confidence first knowing that building their networks will naturally flow from their continued efforts.  If they attend events thinking new clients will flow quickly, they will get discouraged and quit because their discomfort isn’t worth the lack of benefit.

This summer, I encourage you to let a young professional shadow you at an event  or to take them out for a mentoring lunch to encourage them to network more.   Here are the top questions I get asked by young professionals about networking – and my answers so you’re prepared!  This won’t come as news to you, but it can be a good refresher in advance of dolling out the advice.

What group should I join?

For young professionals the focus of their networking time should be on skill development since it will is likely difficult for those in the lower ranks to give/receive referrals.

  • Alumni groups are great because everyone already has something in common.  Conversations about the changes on campus or the football team will flow naturally.
  • Volunteer groups satisfy Millennials’ interest in giving back while also giving them something to focus on when not in direct conversation with another volunteer.
  • Young professional sub-sets of trade organizations are prevalent and should be a target for anyone who wants to focus on a niche market.
  • Committees for any group (even a non-profit!) are a great way to be part of a group while providing more structure and a set calendar of meetings.  While young professionals may be attend and sit quietly at first, they will eventually gain the confidence to speak up or take on additional responsibility.

How do I start a conversation?  

  • With a smile!
  • But after that, some words will need to be exchanged… when introducing yourself try to be memorable and differentiate yourself by telling a story.
  • Sometimes this question is about how to fill in the blanks in a conversation with someone you don’t know well.  Thankfully in Boston we can always rely on sports, weather, and traffic to fill in lots of gaps!
  • Ask about the person’s relationship to the event host organization or how frequently they attend the organization’s events.

How do I find someone to talk to?  

  • If you joined a committee, you’d likely know someone in the room!
  • Anyone standing alone will be grateful for a companion.
  • When evaluating a group to join, look for open body language between the people.  If their shoulders are not squared to each other and there’s room between them, you can join that conversation with confidence.
  • Look for people you’d like to talk to!  Maybe someone nearby is wearing an accessory you can compliment (this tends to work better for women).   Perhaps there are other young people you can meet.
  • Ask the host organization’s staff for advice on who to meet.

How do I end a conversation?

First of all, ending a conversation is not a failure, as so many young professionals think is.  Getting over that emotional hurdle will help ease the tension.

  • Everyone who goes to a networking event is there to meet people.  So, when a natural lull in the conversation occurs, be honest and tell the person with whom you’re speaking that you enjoyed the conversation and that you’ll follow-up but for now you’re going to continue mingling.  This is when you should exchange business cards if you haven’t already.
  • If you don’t have much in common with the person and there’s no real business need for a continued relationship, be polite and say that you hope you’ll see the person again at another event soon.
  • The middle course of action is to say that you’ll invite the person to connect on LinkedIn.
  • The highest commitment you can make is to offer to meet again for coffee or lunch some time soon.

How do I follow-up?  Do whatever you said you would do during or at the end of your conversation.

  • If you offered to make a connection or send a note about a restaurant/gym/banker/etc, do it.
  • If you said you’d send a LinkedIn invite, do that with a personal invite (not the default version).
  • If you said you’d like to meet for coffee or lunch, send an email with a suggestion of a restaurant between your two offices and a couple of dates that would work for you.  In this note include a short message about the conversation thread you’d like to continue.

 

Good luck!  And if you get any questions from your young professional colleague that stump you, or someone who craves additional coaching, send them my way!   If your firm is interested in my two-hour interactive presentation on Networking Dos, Don’ts and How Tos for Young Networkers, please contact me.

 

 

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Alison has more than ten years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA from Boston College. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees. Visit Alison on Google+.