A person at a standing desk using a computer.
A person at a standing desk using a computer.

Networking Best Practices: Tips for Successful Connections

The term ‘networking’ can often elicit images of awkward small talk as you imagine strangers with name tags mingling in a conference room. The truth is, once you adopt networking best practices, networking can go from being uncomfortable to engaging. 

The art of networking is one of the biggest secrets to landing your dream job. When executed correctly, networking opens the door for new opportunities, garners support from high-profile business professionals and helps you develop long-lasting relationships.

Online MBA graduates from Walsh University build connections with expert faculty and peers from diverse professional backgrounds during their time in the program. They also seek to continue developing connections by using networking best practices in a real-world setting. 

If you want to increase your professional prospects, follow Walsh University’s networking guidelines to boost your confidence and master the art of networking.

Importance of Understanding Network Best Practices

In the digital era, professionals may question if traditional networking is worthwhile. Networking face-to-face continues to be important for building connections and generating opportunities. In-person networking increases your visibility in your field. Establishing a strong network can also help you build a professional support system to share information, tools and opportunities — but knowing the right practices for networking can mean the difference between success and failure.

A 2020 LinkedIn survey reported successful networking can have a significant effect on hiring. Consider these findings.

  • 73% of respondents had been hired due to a personal introduction or connection 
  • 89% of hiring managers reported that referrals were important
  • 26% of managers were more likely to hire a referred candidate

Benefits of Networking for MBA Students

Prospective students who are considering enrollment in an MBA program routinely cite networking as one of their top incentives. Certainly, the benefits of networking for MBA students and graduates are numerous. Some of these advantages include:

  • Career placement. Fortune notes that 89% of hiring managers value referrals as they try to fill important openings, while 70% of new hires find work in a company where they already have a connection. Making connections is a meaningful way to move any career forward, especially for those who are still completing a degree program and are starting to think about what comes next.
  • Skills formation. Some people are better at networking than others. That’s because there are real skills associated with effective networking, including the ability to listen, convey curiosity, and come across as authentic. The MBA setting can be a great, relatively low-stakes environment in which to practice and hone these skills. This is equally true in virtual classrooms, where interactions with other students and faculty must be particularly focused and intentional.
  • Self-discovery. MBA programs also provide a unique opportunity to conduct self-assessment. Students tend to learn quite a bit about the business areas in which they shine, and the ones where they rub up against innate limitations. Self-knowledge can be crucial for conveying a truthful, meaningful value proposition at networking events.

What Are the Basics of Networking Best Practices

Now that you understand the importance of networking, it’s time to learn the basic concepts that will elevate your interactions and help you form meaningful business relationships. 

Be Prepared

Arriving at a networking event — whether in person or virtual — with a game plan can alleviate stress and increase the likelihood that you will have a productive experience. There are numerous ways you can prepare for networking.

  1. Find out who is attending. If possible, determine who will be attending the event, their job titles, their career histories and who you are interested in connecting with.
  2. Conduct background research. Once you determine who you want to connect with, review their LinkedIn profiles or professional websites to learn more about their businesses and roles.
  3. Think of conversation starters in advance. Use the information you have collected about prospective contacts to ideate relevant questions that relate to their area of interest.

An additional tip: do not go into excessive detail with your investigation. Professionals will be more uncomfortable than impressed if you open a conversation about their personal details. Use research to prepare relevant questions without going overboard.

Be Curious

The most interesting person in the room is the most interested person in the room. Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends & Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

The secret ingredient to networking is curiosity; the strong desire to learn. Shifting from a self-centered mindset that says “What can I get?” to a curious mindset that says “What can I learn?” alleviates social pressure. Go into a networking event to ask the best questions.

Learn to Listen

Professionals concern themselves with learning how to talk and forget about the importance of learning how to listen. This involves understanding the distinction and value of two specific types of listening.

  • Active listening: The listener is present, focused, maintains eye contact and resists the urge to formulate a response while the person is talking
  • Deep listening: The listener is actively listening with a deeper intention to better understand the person speaking without judgment and connect on a deeper level

Walk into your next networking event with the objective to better understand your peers through active and deep listening. When you do this, observe the immediate shift in your level of anxiety and overall enjoyment of engaging in conversations.

10 Networking Best Practices Tips for Success 

With the basics of networking best practices in mind, start preparing for your next networking event with four essential steps.

1. Map Your Career Goals

What do you want to achieve in the next three to five years? Ask yourself who you know and who you need to meet to help you reach that goal. Career goals evolve and can be broken up into micro and macro goals. Your micro goals refer to what you want to accomplish in the short term (e.g., in six months you want to be promoted). Macro goals focus on long-term outcomes (e.g., in five years you want to be a leader in the company.) 

Write down your micro and macro goals, actionable steps to take and connections that can help foster these action items. Gaining clarity around personal goals will help you determine which networking events are the most valuable for your growth.

2. Find Networking Events

How do you find the right networking event for you? Schools such as Walsh University organize Speed Networking Events and alumni meet-ups that encourage students and graduates to connect face to face. If you’re not sure where to start, familiarize yourself with the different types of networking events.

  • Career Fairs
  • College Alumni Programs
  • College Career Networking Events
  • Community Service Groups
  • Diversity Groups
  • Professional Conferences

If you’re a recent graduate seeking like-minded peers, opt for an alumni event. If you’re a data analyst seeking job opportunities, seek out a data and technology conference. Selecting the right event is key to building meaningful professional connections.

3. Bring Business Cards

Are business cards dead? A LinkedIn connection and a follow-up email are effective ways to stay in touch after an event has ended, but a traditional business card continues to hold importance in networking. Business cards support the following.

  • Branding: Whether you’re an independent contractor or a leader at a company, business cards support branding. A logo, color scheme and type font connect you to a physical business and build your personal and professional brand.
  • Professionalism: Coming to a networking event prepared with business cards demonstrates a level of professionalism that is admired and noticed.
  • Personalization: Create a business card that stands out among the crowd. Business cards are an opportunity to be remembered.
  • Bridge to Digital: Business cards can be a tangible tool connecting you to the digital world. You can list your contact information as well as your social media links to encourage further connection after a networking event.

4. Write Your Value Proposition

Career coaches and business articles stress the importance of composing an “elevator pitch” before entering an event. An elevator pitch refers to a brief sales pitch that outlines your product, service or project that could be delivered in the 60 seconds of an elevator ride. 

Forget the sales pitch and prepare a value proposition. A value proposition explains how a product or service fills a need, communicates a benefit and adds value to the lives of others. When writing a value proposition about yourself, ask the following questions:

  • How do I provide value to a company?
  • What in-demand skills do I possess that benefit others?
  • How can I help?

Instead of walking into a networking event wondering what you can get out of it, focus on what you can offer to the people and companies present and make a list.

5. Approach Business Contacts

The most intimidating moment in a networking interaction can be mustering the courage to start a conversation. Arrive early to the networking event to start building connections quickly. It’s more intimidating to walk into a loud, busy event late and join a conversation than to be the first to jump in. 

Keep it simple. Look for people who are alone, such as those leaving the bar or entering the event, and greet them with a handshake and a simple introduction. Alleviate the pressure by asking them an engaging question to kick off the conversation.

6. Ask Creative Questions

It’s okay to engage in small talk but be prepared with creative questions to bypass surface-level conversation, learn more about people and stand out as a memorable conversationalist. Elizabeth Gilbert, American journalist and author of the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, notes how she starts conversations. She asks people: “What are you most excited about in your life right now?” 

Gilbert noticed that this question cuts through typical small talk and pinpoints what people are passionate about. Opening with this question allows people to talk about what they love and creates room for engaging follow-up questions. 

7. Watch Your Body Language

Body language impacts your business communication, and you may not even know it. Body language includes hand gestures, level of attentiveness, handshake, smile and other non-verbal cues. Body language accounts for more than 50% of communication and is an essential part of networking. There are several different ways to optimize your body language for better networking.

  • Refrain from checking your phone during conversations.
  • Show attentiveness by turning your body toward the speaker, maintaining eye contact and nodding when you’re validating a point the speaker has made.
  • Use hand gestures while you speak to capture attention and support your story.
  • Open and close conversations with a firm handshake to create physical connection and foster trust.
  • Smile naturally and avoid animating your expression with a forced laugh or smile.

8. Be Authentic

Authenticity is perhaps the most valuable quality for building meaningful connections. Networkers can embrace authenticity by doing the following: 

  • Engage in honest conversations. Try to avoid exaggerating or inflating your accomplishments to gain attention and talk to people authentically about where you are in your career.
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss your struggles. When you talk to people about the challenges you have faced professionally you allow others to share their honest experiences.
  • Try the 70/30 rule. Talk about 70% work-related topics and 30% personal topics. Discussing family, sports, entertainment, travel and other personal interests allows you to get to know people in their truest form.

9. Follow Up

The best way to initiate the perfect follow-up is by asking a professional how they prefer to be contacted while at the networking event. If a professional prefers a phone call, ask them what time of day works best to ensure you’re respecting their schedule.

In a follow-up phone call or email, provide context about where you met, who you are and what you talked about. Use the follow-up to fulfill a particular purpose. For example, if you discussed a business project, ask the connection additional questions about this topic. A follow-up should be intentional, even if the goal is simply adding them to your contact list.

10. Build Mutually Beneficial Relationships

Business relationships should always be a give and take proposition. For example, many of the great business leaders have a mentor or coach. Mentorship is valuable for the mentee, but how can you ensure the relationships are mutually beneficial? If you form a helpful business connection, you can give back in numerous ways.

  • Trade services: Use your skills and expertise to help your business connections with tasks.
  • Leverage your network: Introduce your connection to relevant people who can support their career goals.
  • Create joint ventures: Start a project with your connection based on a common goal or interest you share.
  • Write them a letter: Writing a thank you letter is a small gesture that communicates gratitude and appreciation to your mentor or business connection.
  • Stay in touch: Whether your mentor-mentee relationship comes to a close or you finish a project with a business connection, it’s important to check in periodically and stay in touch.

Gain the Foundational Skills for Networking Success

One of the premier places to apply these practices with like-minded business professionals is in a respected MBA program. Walsh University offers one of the strongest online MBA programs available. 

Walsh University attracts passionate students from around the world by offering the following.

  • Four concentrations for MBA study, including specializations in the fields of Management, Healthcare Management, Marketing and Data Analytics
  • 100% online coursework
  • Incredible faculty who are experts in their field and committed to student success
  • Small classes with peers from diverse professional backgrounds 
  • No GMAT or GRE required for admission

Walsh University is driven by the success of its students. In living that mission, we teach students how to use networking best practices to succeed both academically and professionally. Join a community of expert faculty and worldwide alumni to launch your career in business and create lifelong business relationships.