Personal connections have always played a powerful role in professional success, and those with a big network of contacts are usually exposed to more opportunities and better leads. But how does this translate to practical advice that can help you find work?
If you’re on the job market or looking for ways to take your career to the next level, here are seven simple, actionable moves that can help you make the most of a night out.
1. Before you plan your evening, think about who you might run into. If you have to choose between one social event and another, it’s not wrong or shallow to consider the guest list and make an educated guess about the people who might cross your path. If you’re in the mood to relax, sharing a drink at home with five close friends is fine. But if you’re feeling professionally restless, it might be time to give your close friends a rain check, put on your dress shoes, and head off to a large party where you’ll be surrounded by strangers and new faces.
2. Relax. But stay focused. If you’re having a great conversation about current events, or if you’re sharing funny stories or being shown pictures of a stranger’s new puppy, just enjoy the moment. But if the subject of work comes up and your companion implies she might know someone who can help you, don’t brush off the comment or let it pass without collecting some follow-up information.
3. Be bold. If you know that someone in the room might be able to help you, don’t wait all night for the perfect moment to edge up to the person and start a conversation. Just seek them out. Say hello, extend your hand, and explain to the person why he or she is of interest to you. Most people like this.
4. Enjoy the party. Even if the stakes are high, you’ve been on the job market forever, you’re getting desperate, and the person you’re talking to might represent a lifeline, remember that you’re at a party. Laugh. Smile. Drink. Eat. Move around. Leave the professional world behind for the time being, even if you’re only doing so on the surface.
5. Keep an open mind. Ask people about themselves, and really listen to the answers. Use every social gathering as an opportunity to find out how other people think, what they do for a living, and what they know about the world that you might not know.
6. At the same time, don’t get cornered. If a nervous, socially awkward, or pushy person decides to box you in and talk your ear off, smile and stay polite, but excuse yourself. If you came here with the intention of establishing professional connections, then this time is money. Protect your interests.
7. Tune in to what you might have to offer, not just what you have to gain. While you’re looking for information and leads that can help you, stay dialed into the needs and desires of others. These may be subtle, so you’ll have to stay alert. But listen for sentences that begin with: “I just wish I could find a way to…” or “I’m looking for someone who can help me with…” If you have an answer—or even a potential answer—speak up and share it. What goes around comes around, and if you put some effort into helping others get what they want, this act of generosity will come back to you in time.
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