Autumn is abundant with networking events for financial services professionals. You can expand your network, reconnect with colleagues and deliver your personal message, as well as that of your firm. We don’t often see enough mid-career business professionals at industry conferences. This may be because they feel they're recycling the same experiences and conversations in different settings with the same results.
There is a way around this and financial professionals in control of their careers know the secrets to networking success. Let me share a few of these common networking mistakes – and how to avoid them – with you.
Mistake 1: Failing to differentiate yourself
Seasoned networkers and experienced candidates in the job search know how to differentiate themselves while networking and during the recruitment process.
They recognize the challenge of standing out in a sea of faces and resumes and getting the time they need to properly present themselves and their credentials. Rather than simply showing up (frequently touted as the first step for networking success), they begin networking before they arrive.
This is how you can too. Do your homework. Look up the names of panelists and guest speakers. Read their LinkedIn profiles for synergies, interests, where they went to school, jobs they had throughout their career. When you meet in person, prepare to immediately engage ... "Pleased to meet you. I believe we went to the same school/share a similar interest/belong to the same community board." Finding common ground is always an asset.
Seek common connections and reach out in advance asking for a virtual introduction. If there isn't a connection, introduce yourself with a brief email, letting the speaker know you'll be attending the upcoming event and looking forward to getting acquainted. That's called breaking the ice and it makes it so much easier to walk up to a speaker in a crowded room.
Mistake 2: Not planning ahead or strategizing
Networking professionals are strategic about the conferences and other events they attend.
In addition to key industry conferences, they search out more exclusive opportunities ... galas, art shows, social clubs, TEDx events and cocktail hours. Standing out means not being surrounded by dozens of others who are in the same industry, members of the same organization or doing the same job.
Arrive at the event at least 15-to-20 minutes early and use the time to introduce yourself to high-value people, speakers, conference leaders and panelists. Grab a front-row seat ... but don’t stay glued to it.
Ask to be introduced to a key player rather than trying to connect on your own. After meeting, greeting and presenting your story in a brief and memorable way, ask for an introduction. For example: “Is there someone here you think I should meet? Would you introduce me?” Everyone knows someone, and people find it easier to talk to strangers when there’s a common connection.
If you’re attending with a friend or colleague, separate and work as a tag team, introducing people you meet to each other. For example: “I'd like to introduce you to a colleague. I think you have some shared interests.” You’ll be seen as a power connector and multiply the number of people you meet in a short time. Everyone wins.
Mistake 3: Being wishy-washy or lacking specificity
Powerful networkers are specific in both their offer and their ask.
They ask questions like “What are you hoping to get out of this event? How may I help?”
Be specific about what you can do and when they can expect to hear from you. Don’t ask for anything until you’ve given something. Reciprocity is fundamental to building long-term relationships built on integrity and trust. Power connectors always follow up and link up quickly after the event and then stay in touch.
There are layers upon layers of networking strategies you can employ. It begins with planning, goal-setting and skill-building. It expands with communicating, branding and sincerity. Then it just goes on and on because, as strategic networkers know, connecting is an ongoing process, not a one-off project. It’s an art, not a science. And if you strategize in advance and play your cards right, then your brand of distinction will make you a standout in any networking forum.
Diane Baranello is the former training director for Citi’s Private Bank, career coach, corporate trainer and founder of Coaching for Distinction.
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