Skills matter, competencies are key, and expertise will always elevate you, but at the end of the day: people invest in people.

In today’s world, the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has never been more true and people (especially young professionals) are finding that their networks and their connections, are truly the best asset they have for upward mobility.

This is why it is important for the truly ambitious to know the power of networking. Networking can be both formal and structured (a leadership program, networking event, conference breakout sessions) or informal (happy hour, dinner with a mix of old and new colleagues) but in any scenario, it is important to make a meaningful connection with as many people as you can. As I said in a blog post on this subject a couple of years ago:

“Networking helps build a professional reputation backed by a cadre of supporters and believers. It is this network that can corroborate your credentials and solidify your standing with other interested parties. These are the people who cannot only help you find jobs or partnerships, but can potentially recommend you to employers and connect you with donors. With nonprofits fighting for resources, it only makes sense that we would want to meet as many people who can connect us to donors, funders and experts in the field.

With that said, every one of our contacts is a potential client, a potential resource and if treated well, a potential partner or donor. I’ve heard innumerable stories of people transitioning casual contacts to loyal clients or invaluable assets to their personal brand. People like to be connectors, they like to be of importance and they love to see their facilitation yield fruition. However, no matter how altruistic we want to believe we are, people also like reciprocity and that means making a contact might generate something advantageous in the future.”

The idea that networking is paramount to professional growth is not new, it’s not novel, and it has (as I just addressed) been touched on many times before. Everyone knows that in today’s world, you can have an impressive resume and a killer LinkedIn profile, but without clout in your sector, you will always lose to the person who knows someone and will always be at a deficit unless your Rolodex is rich.

So start knowing someone.

I’ve outlined a few tips for networking that pull from a variety of situations (going to a formal event, meeting someone by chance, or being at a happy hour) that should help you as you build your network:

  • Have an objective. If you know that you are entering into a networking event, know what you want going in (is this for a job, are you seeking knowledge or a general connection?) I enter every opportunity where there will be more than a few people with the idea that I will come out with a good contact and I always know who will be there.
  • Know your audience. If possible, do your research on who the speakers are or who is there – collect a couple of facts before hand (use LinkedIn, Google, Facebook…some call it staling, I call it social research). Things like where they went to school, some of the awards they’ve won, who they know and what they like go a long way when starting a conversation or keeping it going.
  • 75/25 Rule. When talking with someone, listen 75% of the time and speak 25% of the time (people love talking about themselves). Essentially, interview.
  • Always ask. People like to be seen as experts. As they speak, ask for information (What do you think about XXX? I am intrigued by XXX).
  • Be inviting. Have you ever been in a crowd and saw someone on the outskirts, in the periphery, looking awkward? Have you ever been that person? Well invite that person into the group. You will look like a natural leader and connector, will make that person feel welcomed, and also gain another contact (and probably an ally).
  • Remember F.O.R.M. Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation
  • Soak it in. Commit one fact to memory for future use. People are always amazed when I can, months later, bring up where their kids go to school, or ask for an update on something we were discussing during the initial conversation.
  • Follow Up. Follow up within 24 hours no matter what (I am notorious for sending follow up emails as soon as I get to my laptop or have a second with my iPhone). Start with a fact about the conversation or something you remember and then thank them and ask for a future meeting (if wanted).
  • Time to go. Sometimes, one on one conversations are just not going well or maybe they are going on too long. Its okay to leave but do it gracefully. Have something in mind (“I promised so and so I’d see them before I take off”) to use if the iteration gets tough.
  • Make it personal. If thee conversation and follow up lead to a meeting, make sure to write a handwritten thank you note. This little touch goes a long way.
  • Use me. Use your contacts, that’s what they are for. If you need to be connected to someone, or know something, reach out to your new friend and don’t be afraid to ask because they surely won’t be.

The best advice someone can give you is to go out there and meet as many people as possible. Some connections will be fruitful, some won’t, but ultimately, the more people you know the better chance you have at success. Organizations like the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network creates a number of opportunities for people to get together, network, and create these connections that will eventually lead to something mutually beneficial.

See you at our next event and be sure to give me your card.