Social networks have become de rigueur for working new career contacts. With users that number in the millions, LinkedIn, Mixi and other sites allow professionals around the world to connect with colleagues past and present—expanding networks to numbers never before possible. But project managers should not forget the importance of in-person networking where connections are more personal and impressions longer lasting.
The next time you attend a networking event, remember these five tips:
1. Focus on your audience
Don’t you hate it when you’re at an event and the person you’re speaking with is scanning the room to see who else is there?
“When you are networking with someone at an event, give him or her your undivided attention,” says Wayne Botha, PMP, principal consultant, Botha Consulting, South Windsor, Connecticut, USA. “Networking is about building lasting relationships, not about pushing unwanted business cards at strangers,” he says. Instead, concentrate on what the person is saying and try to pick up nuances you can leverage later. “People are impressed when you meet again and you recall their name along with details of your last meeting,” adds Mr. Botha, who also serves as a vice president of membership for the PMI Southern New England Chapter.
2. Go in prepared
“Have a standard set of questions that you can use to begin a discussion,” says Sue Bergamo, former CIO, Aramark Galls & Wearguard, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Not only will you be ready to approach someone, you won’t do all the talking. “People love to talk,” says Mr. Botha. “The fastest way to build new relationships is to inquire about the other person’s work, and then ask about their biggest challenges or successes. You may learn useful information in addition to building a new relationship that can be mutually beneficial.”
3. Make connections from the executive suite on down
Reserving your networking to only top managers is a mistake.
“My contacts are at all levels,” says Chester, England-based Charles Ryder, PMP, director of the project management training firm Kennedy Ryder. “When I meet someone that I believe has the potential to be successful or is successful and I enjoy their company, I will contact them again.” It’s a practice that has served Mr. Botha well. “While managing a project in 2002, I worked with members of another team,” he says. “I made the effort to visit their desks instead of phoning them while taking a few extra minutes to talk about their hobbies and interests,” he says. In 2008, when the team needed a new project manager, Mr. Botha got the call. “I was recommended by multiple team members due to the relationships we had built six years prior.”
4. Follow up right away
This is where in-person networking and online networking converge.
Connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn or friend them on Facebook if you use your account for professional purposes. And don’t overlook the potential of e-mails and phone calls to people you know and with whom you’d like to stay in touch.
5. Never pass up an opportunity to connect
Sometimes even a seemingly random relationship leads to a big payoff.
“I was traveling to London when there was a problem with the [rail] lines,” says Mr. Ryder. Forced to change trains, he took the only empty seat he could find. “I chatted to the person in the next seat and we got on well. In the conversation he indicated that his company was setting up in Geneva, and I gave him some advice and contact names. We exchanged cards and parted,” Mr. Ryder says. “Some weeks later his company put some project management training our way.”
And isn’t that what networking is all about—making and working contacts in ways that can be beneficial to your business and career, and to theirs as well?
Re-printed from PMI.org