Some are simply born to do it; others see it as a chore. But networking, scary as it may sound, is simply a fancy word for meeting new people. Conferences, cocktail parties, the office kitchen, and even airport lounges are all fair game for finding that captive audience to help with your next career move.
With a little practice, anyone can become a seasoned pro at rubbing elbows. We checked in with a few industrious entrepreneurs for their best tips to make new connections (hint: start chatting up your seatmate!).
Habit 1: Make the most of travel time.
“Most people cringe at making small talk on an airplane, but it is a great place for organic networking. I once sat next to a recruiter for a five-hour flight and left with a job offer!” – Lauren McGoodwin, founder of Career Contessa
“Whether it be a train, plane, or an airport lounge, don’t dress down—it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t usually cross paths with.” – Myka Meier, founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette
Habit 2: Learn how to work a room.
“I try to pick one to three people and make sure I know what they look like, and something about their recent work. If it’s a relationship I’m seeking, it’s better to think about what I can offer them. I’m a big fan of suggesting an email, book, or website for people—the more off-the-beaten track, the better.” – Kat Griffin, founder of Corporette.com
“I try to not have ‘event FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and instead try to have interesting conversations with whoever ends up near me. These serendipitous encounters usually lead to opportunities!” – Amanda Slavin, CEO and founder of CatalystCreativ
Habit 3: Don’t underestimate the power of the follow-up.
“I find it difficult to carry around tons of business cards. I will usually email the person right when I meet them so they have my information. I find that if a person really wants to connect with you, they will email you back and set up a time to meet.” – Slavin
“Follow the person on Twitter or LinkedIn, and give them a shout-out for the interesting conversation.” – Tiffany Hardin, strategist and founder of She Knows Now
Habit 4: Seek connections at all levels.
“The most successful networking relationships are with those who are at your own or a similar level. Make authentic relationships—honestly, it looks more like friendships—with people. Go into any networking situation with the approach that this person will be a friend, rather than someone to check off a list.” – Chandra Turner, founder and president of Ed2010.com and executive editor of Parents magazine
“Do not assume that you shouldn’t speak to someone because they don’t have a top-notch position or are at a company you have never heard of. Networking is about keeping an open mind and heart.” – Slavin