By Susan Ricker
Networking is one of the fastest ways to find new opportunities for your career, but it's also one of the most daunting. Walking into a room full of people you don't know, attempting to eat stale crackers without spraying crumbs on the intimidating professional you're talking to, all while trying to think of a clever way to ask for a job -- is it any wonder that networking is often passed over for less interactive forms of job searching?
You should always carry business cards with you, but it's especially important at a networking event. Even if you're currently employed, having a quick and convenient way to give someone your contact information makes it easier to make connections. There are websites that will print affordable, custom business cards for you. Include your name, title or industry, email address and phone number, as well as any personal websites or online portfolios.
This is your chance to brand yourself, so think about what you want others to know about you and what kind of relationships you're looking to establish. Practice introducing yourself in less than 30 seconds. Giving a new contact your "elevator pitch" helps you speak about yourself confidently, and sharing your business card communicates that you're interested in establishing a professional relationship.
2. Something that makes you a specialist in your field.
After initial introductions, share something that establishes you as a specialist in your field. Maybe you are an accomplished salesman, were recognized in your discipline or work with a niche group of customers. Just as in a job interview, have an answer for why you're a leader in your profession. You want to give people you meet a reason to want to talk to you, instead of somebody else in your field.
3. A creative project you're working on, either on your own or at work.
Initiative is a favorite business buzzword, but it does have merit and is worth mentioning. Demonstrate your ability to act on your own and make hard decisions by discussing a side project, such as launching a website, writing a book or leading a team. You may find somebody who has valuable insight on your project or who may be interested in collaborating on it.
4. You're interested in their profession, too.
After a conversation ends, you don't want a person's memory of you to be, "Me, me, me." If done incorrectly, networking can turn into two people talking about themselves and asking each other for favors. Take the time to get to know the person with whom you're speaking. Share your "elevator pitch," convey why you're a specialist and mention current projects, but take the time to hear his point of view, too. After networking, can you recall the people you spoke with because you have a better understanding of who they are? Or can you only recall what they can do for you?
5. Something unique that will make you stand out.
Sharing a unique personal story or entertaining fact is a good way to stay memorable after a networking event. You'll not only prove that you know your business and strengths, but you'll also show that you're personable and get along well with others. Have fun and be yourself, and people will want to network -- and work -- with you.
Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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