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Networking for a successful career?

Why early networking is so crucial in your job and five tips on how to master it

"Everyone knows everyone over six corners" - at least this is what Stanley Milgram's small-world-phenomenon states, according to which every person in the world is connected to every other person through this surprisingly short chain. This results in an enormous potential for your current professional life as well as for your future career possibilities. After all, the majority of jobs are awarded through personal networks. Conversely, this means that those who do not network have much worse chances on the job market. That's why there are fairs and conferences on a wide range of topics – from politics and technology to sustainability – where you can meet new people and perhaps even your potential future employer.

We will give you five tips on how to best network at such events, or simply in everyday life, even if you haven't had much practice yet.

1. Inform yourself in advance

Who will you meet at the event? You can often find information on the speakers and companies that will be present at the event on the organizer's website. If you know that you might meet your future employer or internship company, you can prepare yourself accordingly:  Find out about the company and the person, as well as current events in the respective industry.  If you are well prepared, you will not only take more of the event with you, but you will also be able to score points with your counterpart and avoid making mistakes.  Because: "There's no second chance for a first impression!" Shared values and interests are particularly important for “jobs with purpose".

But what about the other participants? Just use your Instagram Story, the Facebook or WhatsApp group to ask who will be there. If you already know someone, it is often easier to approach new people.

2. Define your goals

Be aware of what you actually want to take away from the exchange: Are you looking for new career perspectives, tips for your everyday life or maybe an investor? The most important thing here is the way of starting the conversation: Don't blurt it straight out! "Hello, do you have an internship for me?", for example, seems unpleasant. Small talk is usually a good opener. For instance a question like "What did you think of the speech?".  But don't wait too long before you get down to business. Otherwise, you'll lose sight of your real goal.

3. 70-20-10: First give, then take

Do you know those people who only talk about themselves? Don't be like them! The US-American social media consultant Mike Sansone has developed the 70-20-10 rule for this:

Use 70% of the conversation to help others. Ask what your counterpart is up to and give tips.  Your interest automatically builds up trust between you. This applies during a conference as well as at the office.

Use 20% of the time to present yourself.  What makes you unique?  What are you passionate about? Try to go a little bit more in-depth than "I like to read".  Explain what exactly inspired you in your last book or what fascinated you about your trip to Australia. Nowadays, many people think it's more important what values and views you hold than which car you drive. But just as with a résumé, stick to the truth - you will probably receive questions!

Use 10% of the time to achieve your goal. As you have already built a certain relationship to your counterpart, he or she is more likely to help you.

4. Body language is the most important language

There are numerous guides on the subject of body language – both in the form of seminars and online. You should pay attention to this:

Eye contact: During a conversation, look into the eyes of the person you're talking to. This shows interest and at the same time makes you look confident. But be careful: You should not stare. Studies show that most people find eye contact of more than 3.3 seconds uncomfortable.

Smile: An honest smile is always an advantage. On the one hand, you appear more likeable and open. On the other hand, smiling is contagious and has been proven to enhance our mood.  And in a good mood, it is much easier to network!

Distance: According to the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the physical distance between people can be divided into four categories: the public, the social, the personal and the intimate zone. You should avoid the first and last of these in conversations. Depending on the situation, you should always keep an arm's length of distance. Otherwise, your counterpart might (perhaps only subconsciously) perceive this as intrusive. Remember also consider cultural differences!

5. Stay in contact

And this does not mean that you send a picture of your cat on WhatsApp every week. Social networks such as LinkedIn or XING have become an integral part of the professional world. However, keep in mind: quality before quantity. How do you benefit from 100 new contacts if a week after the conference nobody knows who you are anymore? Write a text, for example directly in your contact request on LinkedIn, saying: "Thank you for your valuable advice during the conference in Berlin. Did you get to London safely?". Such short messages are essential for building a primary relationship. If you happen to meet this person again in a year, they will probably start looking for you on LinkedIn. Instead of just seeing that you are "connected", this person will see your message and be able to assign you directly. This gives you a trust advantage right away. Of course, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is meaningful and always up to date. Some numerous online courses and articles can help you with this.

What events are there?

As mentioned in the beginning, there are many events where you can improve your networking skills and meet new interesting people. Events like Z2X and re:publica inspire students, entrepreneurs and young professionals alike. Of course we especially recommend our conference: SensAbility – The WHU Impact Summit, Europe's largest student-organized conference on social and sustainable entrepreneurship. The vision is to show participants concrete ways to shape the economy in the context of sustainability. On March 27th and 28th, 2020, SensAbility will take place for the tenth time under the motto "Our Future, Our Challenge – Business with Purpose". The event offers you a platform for mutual exchange and inspiration, and thus the opportunity to enrich your network with valuable contacts.

This article was published in cooperation with our partner GoodJobs.

Torben Vetter

Image © Hivan Arvizu via Unsplash

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