Everyone tells you to network, build your contacts, and get your name out there. But how do you DO that? How do you meet the right people, make the connection, and then build the relationship?
Well, let’s start with meeting folks. Imagine walking into a networking mixer. Perhaps you don’t know a soul, and have no idea what to say. Sometimes going to a networking event can be terrifying, boring, or confusing.
As Latinos, we tend to have good skills when it comes to networking (at least among our own communities). However, interestingly, we don’t always put those skills to use in our careers.
Here are a few tips on how you can make your culture work for you! (By the way, these tips work whether or not you’re at a networking event, conference or even at the office. Make the most of all the professional environments you find yourself in.)
People are people. We all connect about the same topics – our work, our own interests, our families and friends, our communities. It’s easy to strike up a conversation about something as innocuous as the weather, and then ask about what someone does.
I remember early in my career I would get intimidated by people I saw as my superiors. It was easy for me to be friendly to people I perceived as my equals, but those ‘above’ me scared me. Probably my upbringing, but it took a while for me to get over it. My attitude wasn’t helpful in business.
As I learned to get out of that mode, I found that people at any level weren’t so hard to talk to, if I used the same skills I would normally use. So if this is one of your fears, recognize it’s normal, and work to move past it.
Ask About Others
One of the keys of networking is not to talk about yourself. A lot of times, we get frightened since we’re not sure what to share. Or we overshare. (I’ve been guilty of that!)
But the most important task in networking is to find out about the OTHER person. Yes, you should have your 30 second ‘elevator pitch’ about what you do, but much more important is to engage the people you meet.
Ask simple questions about their job, their company, what their normal day looks like, if they enjoy their work, and what about it they like.
Be curious about them and their life. Your genuine interest will get you past any discomfort quickly.
If you find out you have a similar interest – say, you’re both soccer fans – great! But the important thing is to learn about the other person, and get to know them. Because…
See How YOU Can Be of Service
You want to see how you can help the other person. As you’re learning about another, think to yourself how you could offer assistance to your new contact. What people do you know that would be helpful to him or her? What information or knowledge do you have?
Even if there’s nothing immediate you can do, the more you learn about another person, the more you can offer in the future.
Why do you want to do this? The law of reciprocity. The more you help others, the more they’ll help you. And you want to build up a network of folks who could help you if you need it. But you must be sincere in your desire to help. If you do it only with a view of what you will get, that will be felt and the action will backfire.
This is where many people drop the ball. If you want to keep a good network, keep in touch with folks. A simple email expressing your pleasure at meeting someone is enough initially.
But feel free to invite your new contact to meet again over coffee or lunch, if you want to. Send them useful articles, and greet them again at another function.
Over time, you will build up your network. Have fun with this, and good luck!
Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.