Networking—the seemingly useless and excruciating practice of talking to random strangers for a few minutes before you move on to other attendees (and maybe stop at the bar for another drink. No shade). But networking is critical, especially if you're job-hunting. Thanks to Meetup, focused Facebook groups, female-only meeting spaces like The Wing, and other professional clubs and services, you can tailor your networking experience to the exact type of work you're looking for. Best-case scenario, you come away with a few perfect connections to move forward in your job hunt. But practice, and form, is key, especially when you're new to the job market or desperately in need of a new gig. Here are a few ways to seal the deal, once you have those important contact details in hand/on your phone.
Work with a friend.
Not only should you bring someone to networking—think moral support, buddy system, someone to talk to if there's no one useful there, your excuse to leave—but having a person you trust along for the ride can lessen the stress of following up with all your new contacts. Your friend can act as a useful sounding board on who's worth connecting with and who isn't, and how best to phrase tricky concepts like: "I love you and I'd love a job but I promise I'm not desperate." A compassionate and knowledgable friend can also serve as a resource if you don't have the money for a career coach...but make sure you're not taking advantage. You can pay them in drinks/food/their movie of choice once you're both done with work.
Give yourself homework.
"The more notes you take," says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, "the easier it will be both for you to recall the conversation and for your new connection to remember you when you follow up." That means as soon as your new professional BFF scoots away, you whip out your favorite note-taking app (I like Evernote) and jot down highlights from the conversation, like the new project they have on the horizon or your shared hatred of plastic straws.
Lock it in.
Let's say you do happen to be networking with the absolute best person for your career—they're in the field or (even better) at the exact company you've been dying to work for. Before you shake hands and move on to the next person, just say, "Hey, let's just set up our next meeting now before we both get super busy." If you really hit it off, bring this up even earlier. "It makes it so much easier to walk away from a conversation when you know the next one is already lined up," Salemi says. "That way, you know you're going to have a longer conversation later on and can focus on leveraging that valuable networking time to meet more people at the event." Quality and quantity, all at the same time.
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Have less chill.
Do you want a job or not? Say you got a card but failed to set a date because that felt like too much. No biggie—you've still got a 48-hour window to remind your contact who you are. Five things to include in your email:
Research shared contacts.
A common networking mistake is assuming that just because a person isn't in your field, or doing what you'd like to do, they're not worth adding to your network. LinkedIn is the very best for showing you networks within networks: Who your contacts know in the companies you're looking at. This can be a tricky, nuanced ask, so it's better to do it delicately. Reach out first and express an interest in keeping in touch, and then add, "By the way, I saw you had a contact at X company. Do you know that person well? I'd love to make connections there, but no worries if it isn't the right fit!" And just like that, you might be connected with someone new, and you didn't even have to make awkward small talk to get there.
Mind your manners.
Like in online dating, you want something, and they want something. But remember that you may be more in need than they are (and you may not have as much to offer, especially if you're junior or new to the industry), so be extra nice. Go into the meeting prepared. Send a thank-you note within 48 hours that shows you paid attention. This is also the place to politely remind them they said they'd hook you up with more people who might be able to help you.
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Think of ways you can help them.
See if the company you work at currently offers something they might need. Ask if you can help with something in their own professional development, like social media management. In the field of writing, for example, you can volunteer to be a free, confidential test reader on one of their drafts (also known as a beta reader). Don't be too extra about it; just inquire if you can help repay the favor if they've put you in contact with someone who helped you.
Think follow-for-follow—in real life.
You know how random people randomly like some of your Instagrams so you notice them? This is that but less desperate, and it's another way to add value. To maintain the relationship you've built through hard work and slightly more than zero chill, give your friend a follow or RT and occasionally (every few months or so) send a casual email. Show that you're helpful and not a creepy bot—you're a good person to know. The follow-up email doesn't just have to be a reminder, either. Try to find something useful, relevant, or fun to share so they think of you positively.
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Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at MarieClaire.com. She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.
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