CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Networking 101

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

For many, the more business cards handed out at a networking event the better. After all, you want to drum up as many contacts as possible, right? Career consultant Leesa Barnes disagrees. She takes just 10 business cards to a networking event and treats them like $100 bills.

Barnes had fallen into the networking trap, pushing a business card into someone's hand before even knowing their name and -- more importantly -- if there was a mutual benefit to developing a relationship. Now, she "spends" her cards much more wisely.

"I'd take this stack of cards I had collected back to my office and days later shuffle through them, trying to remember who these people were and why they should matter to me," says the Toronto consultant.

Prepare for a networking event by understanding its purpose and who will be attending. "Go in with a game plan," Barnes says. "The event co-ordinator can sometimes provide you with an attendance list. Google their names. Imagine their reaction if you tell them you hear they like to ski. That helps with small talk, so you've already gotten over one hump."

Developing a memorable pitch is key. "When I introduce myself, I tell them I coach women, conduct workshops and love science fiction. I tell them I earn a living from the first two and am still trying to figure out how to make money from the third. People will remember me. Suddenly, I'm building relationships."

Treat the person you're talking to like they're the most important person in the room, advises Wendy Woods of Watershed Training Solutions in Toronto. "The best way you can do that is by asking lots of questions," she says.
Career consultant

Take cues from successful networkers. "Notice what makes them good and see if you can easily adopt a few techniques," Woods says. "Don't try to join two people who are already talking, because it can be difficult breaking into the conversation. You're more likely to get a positive response when you approach one person or groups of three or more."

Be a host and help others. "Even if it's not your event, when we act like a host, it naturally allows us to be more proactive," Woods says. "Giving is the basic premise of networking. As the saying goes, 'What goes around comes around,' even if it's indirectly."

Don't rely on memory, Barnes says. "Write down four things about the person on the back of the business card you collect: when and where you met, an action you need to take and something interesting you learned about that person."
Want to get the most out of your networking opportunities? Career consultant Leesa Barnes offers Seven Brainless Networking Techniques to Avoid:
1. Being a Moocher. Don't tap into your network only when you need something. Be willing to give.
2. Being an Ankle Hugger. Don't latch on to one person at a networking event or rely on just one or two contacts.
3. Being a Blabber. Develop a memorable way of introducing yourself.
4. Being the Group Flirt. Don't flit from one group to another handing out business cards. Build relationships.
5. Being a Narcissist. Talking about yourself turns others off.
6. Being the Topic Killer. Avoid controversial topics.
7. The Follow-up Flop. E-mail interesting contacts within 24 hours of meeting them.

Follow up with contacts. "Within 24 hours, send them an e-mail. Let them know you enjoyed meeting them and suggest getting together for coffee," Barnes says.

If she hasn't heard from them within a week, she sends another e-mail. A couple of weeks later, she'll try contacting them again, usually in a voicemail left after hours. "If I still don't hear from them, I move on to more fruitful opportunities. I don't want to be a pest ... Three strikes and you're out."

Check in regularly with your network. "You never want to have to turn to your network when you really need them, especially if you haven't bothered staying in touch," Woods says. "Call and say hello, e-mail them an article that will be of interest or invite them to a networking event you'll be attending."

She suggests attending four networking events a month. "Before you go, think about how many people you'd like to meet, the kind of people you'd like to meet and what you'd like to gain. Afterwards, take the time to evaluate it. Did you get a good return for your time and money? That will help you decide whether to go back to that networking group."

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