Q. Dear Mindy, I am looking for a job and I have been told that it is important to network. I have no idea where to start, and I am worried that I won’t know what to say.  Looking for help in Queens

A. Dear Looking, Networking is not just for people who are looking for jobs, and it’s not just for extroverts. The skills you need to network effectively are skills that will be used throughout your life.  Networking opportunities can happen every day, whether you are in a room full of people or simply having lunch with friends. The ability to network effectively and make professional connections is one of the keys to success. Follow these tips to form great networking relationships:

  • Create personal connections. Look for networking groups where you will find people who share common interests with you. If you are interested in photography, look for groups that would likely attract other photographers in your area. If you would like to meet local business owners, look for meetings sponsored by your local chamber of commerce. Search the internet to find networking opportunities that appeal to your special interests.
  • It’s not what you know, but who you know. Knowing how to approach people is imperative to developing a good first impression. Maintain eye contact, actively listen to the other person so that you can respond appropriately, show a sincere interest in the other person’s conversation and don’t appear needy or overbearing. The goal is not to meet as many people as possible, but to form lasting relationships with those you do meet.
  • Prepare in advance. If you are new to networking, or feel anxious about talking to a group of strangers, it will be helpful to prepare a few topics you can easily talk about to break the ice. Great ice breaker topics include sports (Did you see the game last night?), weather (Did you hear that we are expecting another snow storm?), the venue (This restaurant really has great food. Have you tried the lasagna?). Once you begin the conversation it will be easier to build upon it to find common interests or learn important information.
  • Be sincere about your desire to build relationships. Relationships don’t magically happen after one meeting. They develop over time with both in-person and virtual meetings. Don’t be shy about asking someone to join you for coffee or lunch. Actively look for people to connect with via Linked In or Facebook. Make sure to distribute your business card when you first meet and then follow up with an email or phone call.  You never know when that relationship will open doors for you months, or even years later.

People are more likely to connect and recommend individuals with whom they have relationships. The sooner you begin to network, the more effective your network will be. So don’t delay, connect with someone today!

Mindy Stern, SPHR, ACC is a career coach, author, speaker and trusted advisor. She founded AIM Resource Group Inc. to encourage the growth and success of individuals and organizations. Visit the website at www.aimresourcegroup.com or call 718-217-1074 to learn more.

Do you want your questions answered in this column? Send requests to mstern@aimresourcegroup.com .