The character Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” laments “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be … when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”
How many times at a networking event have you felt the same way? Someone hands you a business card and you immediately hand them yours. How do feel about that exchange? Do you really know anything about this person with whom you’re exchanging cards? I suspect in most cases your answer would be no. Out of politeness you return the favor and hand that person your card. But what kind of message does this type of transaction send?
While the quote from Willy Loman may be a melodramatic way of making a point, simply exchanging business cards at networking events, especially if you’re looking for a job, makes you come across as just another grubby job hunter. It’s the old Willy Loman looking to sell something rather than letting that person first get to know you.
How to Get the Most Out of a Networking Event
Let’s take a minute to look at some ways you can approach someone at a networking event (or other social gathering since all venues are opportunities to network) without first handing out your business card. Here’s a few tips:
Approach people with a real interest in knowing more about them. Start by asking what profession or line of business they’re in before you launch into your own thing. Show curiosity about what they do, and immediately think about ways you could help that person (i.e. potential referrals) or how you could potentially partner with this person if you have your own practice or business.
Never approach people on the assumption they know of job for you since they rarely will, and you’ll come across as the old Willy Loman who’s out to sell something. A big turnoff!
When it comes to share information about yourself have your Pitch prepared – a brief summary of what you do in your job or profession with specific examples of your work (i.e. type of projects you work on or clients with whom you work or do business), followed by some of your future goals and how the person with whom you’re speaking could potentially be helpful to you.
Discuss a time that you can meet again to discuss more of your respective backgrounds, career or business goals, and other challenges you may share over coffee, lunch or drinks. It’s doing the “deeper dive” follow-up meeting that can solidify the relationship. It’s also an opportunity to reinforce who are the best referrals helpful to each of you.
Before you part company and move on to the next person, only then offer to exchange business cards. After all, you’ll need this person’s contact information to arrange a follow-up meeting. Be pro-active in this attempt by reaching out to the person the next day to set up a mutually convenient time to meet.
If you happen to meet a true networker who follows the above protocols, and approaches you first, go with the flow. Again, just be sure to hold on to your business card until you’ve concluded your discussion.
Finally, when you have your follow-up meeting with someone you met at a networking event, try to get additional contacts from this person who can also help you achieve your goals. In any job search true networking is about increasing your probability of meeting the right people at the right levels in your selected job targets (i.e. company or industry, geographic area, and function or profession) that you’re going after. And the more people you meet this way, the closer you’ll get to that new job or business opportunity.
If Willy Loman followed these networking tips, and lamented less of his travails as a salesman, he might have met his true calling even if it were to become a better salesman!