Using social websites to network is becoming more popular, in fact 6 percent of website visits are to social network sites. But there is more to networking than getting online or handing out a business card. You still need the personal touch.
Despite the rise in online social networking, personal meetings are still regarded as the most effective means to uncover new contacts and business opportunities. However, the quality of those connections is often made - or broken - in the first minute of a conversation.
"When people are asked, `what do you do?' in networking settings, they usually respond with a job title," says Stevie Ray, a Minneapolis comedian and corporate networking trainer. "But that's a really bad response, since the other person is far less interested in your job and far more interested in how to solve his or her own problems."
There's plenty of evidence that strong personal networks often lead to shorter, more successful job searches. For example, a recent recruiting study by Career Xroads found that nearly 30 percent of all external hires in companies polled came from direct employee, alumni or third-party vendor referrals. Those referrals, in turn, came from established personal or professional networks.
While becoming a master networker requires considerable practice, Ray says there are four quick steps everyone can take to improve this critical skill.
Set goals. Before attending a networking opportunity, write out specific goals for developing new contacts or job leads. To help keep things on track, share the goals with a "networking buddy" to ensure accountability after each event.
Tune in. When meeting a new contact, focus on his or her needs by asking questions about pressing business issues and concerns. This approach helps position the networker as a useful resource - opening the door for ongoing conversations.
Hold the card. Contrary to common practice, Ray suggests that networkers hold their business cards until asked for one. His rationale? If contacts are impressed with the quality of conversation and rapport, they will ask for it.
Break new ground. Instead of seeking out familiar faces, seek to identify and engage people in companies or industries of interest. That move will not only extend a job seeker's professional boundaries, but also raise their visibility in new circles.