Imagine you’ve been invited to a friend’s graduation party. Knowing your friend and knowing how much of a diva she is, you already know that she goes all out for anything she does. The party is going to be at their residence and will be sponsored by her business tycoon father who can’t wait to parade his daughter’s accomplishments before his friends.
For the last 6 months, she’s been talking about the 3 dresses she plans to showcase on her day, the lavish party favors she intends to mesmerize her guests with, her unending list of VIP guests – that makes you wonder how come you made the cut – and so on and so forth. Without much deliberation you realize you need to get your act together and decide on an attire that would evidence your taste and class.
You start out thinking about the type of occasion and the fact that it’s going to be at their residence. You try to gauge how fashion conscious the crowd may be in order to determine how dressed up or dressed down you want to be. Without mention, you consider the fact that there are going to be many fine brothers in attendance and like an epiphany you realize you have no other option but to dress to impress!
Imagine now that you’ve arrived at the party. The tables have turned and the vetting process has been taken over by the brothers. Without reference to right or wrong, a brother usually makes his decision of who to approach based on what he sees. Depending on his preferences, he carefully considers the sister’s appearance, poise, demeanor, and grace. As a craft well mastered, he processes the information gathered and mentally evaluates the sister – all within a few seconds or minutes. Granted, a good sense of humor or appreciation of humor, intelligence and decency allure men. In most cases however, they only get to discover these qualities after they have made the decision, usually based on what they see, to approach the sister.
The idea behind the process of deciding which sister to talk to and deciding whether or not to give your number is the same idea behind professional networking. Networking simply refers to meeting new people. However, when we network, we network for a reason- social or professional. The fact that networking is for a reason necessitates reasoning while networking.
A lot of people are marred by the thought and fear of professional networking. They detest the idea of approaching someone they don’t know because they are not sure of what the reception would be. Luckily, professional networking doesn’t have to be far fetched. Companies now organize events for the sole purpose of creating a forum where entry-level candidates and junior associates can meet and mingle with senior executives.
The biggest problem to a lot of people is starting a conversation. The concern that they may not have something in common with the other individual overcomes them. What many do not realize is that success at professional networking events is determined even before arrival at the event. Just like the sister aforementioned took the time to think about the event, the attendees and used that as basis for she wants to present herself, some thinking and analysis should go on before arriving at a professional networking event.
You should know exactly what you intend to get out of the event. If you are job searching, you should have at least an idea of the field you want to work in. This way, when you talk with someone at the event, you can clearly express your professional interests thereby making it easy for him or her to recognize an opportunity that may be right for you, in the event that such opportunity arises.
You don’t have to be job searching in order to attend a networking event. It is actually good practice to attend such events when employed. This way, you make contacts and build relationships with people whose help you may need in the future. If you aren’t job searching, you may make it clear that you are employed but interested in learning about the field in question.
Just like the brother aforementioned, you don’t approach just anyone. Approach those you feel are in the position of your interest. Consider personality to see if you may have something in common other than work. The idea is not to talk with and distribute your business card to as many people as possible. You would have scored well even if you only talk with one person and this one person is someone you feel you can invite to coffee in a following week and have a solid conversation with. After all, what use is your business card in multiple trashcans as opposed to your story in the mind of one individual?
To get the conversation started, consider the following:
You: Hello, My name is F2F Africa. How are you doing today?
Senior Executive (SE): Hi, I’m Kwame. It’s my pleasure meeting you.
You: Same here. I see from your nametag that you work in research and development. Can you tell me more about what you do?
Ask questions based on what Kwame says. Show interest in knowing more about Kwame and his job as opposed to wanting to rant about your experiences and aspirations. Be sensitive to gauge the direction that Kwame wants to take the conversation. He may talk more about his non-work related interests. If so, indulge him. Look for ways to connect with Kwame through your experiences or future intentions and be clear about what you are looking for. Be sure to extend your resume, collect his contact information and follow up with an email after the event.
Emmanuela Anyanwu holds a degree in Economics from the City College of New York. She currently works in the financial services industry and has substantial experience coaching on career related topics. She is very passionate about Africa – and wants to propagate positive change. Lifestyle writing is more than a craft to her- it's a medium through which she expresses and explores the multi facets of life.