"Networking is not a 50-yard dash. It's a cross-country run." That's the advice of Patricia Cook, a Chicago-based business etiquette consultant who came to Minneapolis in September to work with the incoming class of full-time MBA students at the University of St. Thomas.

Integrating someone into your network might take four or five contacts, each contact some weeks or months apart. "Do the math," Cook said. In other words, it's a mistake to assume you can meet someone one day and invite them to coffee the next, then immediately start asking for job leads or business referrals.

People who have that approach to networking, Cook said, "make me feel used and run over." The rules for networking are the same for business contacts, people from church and the other parents in your carpool: "People want to help people they like and trust," said Cook.

Ask advice

We also need to remember that "we're networking all the time," Cook said, including our everyday interactions with co-workers. Anytime we ask a favor or make a request, it's a withdrawal from the "emotional checking account." That means we need to be conscious of making deposits into the account. "That could be saying thank you, praising someone in public at a meeting, or calling the boss and saying `That person did a great job,'" Cook said.

When it's time to draw on our network of resources, Cook said the best advice was given to her years ago by her wise grandfather: "If you want someone to mentor you, ask advice." Cook added, "The best networking comes from truly recognizing that the other person knows more than you do and that you can learn from them."

First impressions

 

Networking events are great for making initial contacts, but not for in-depth conversations. "Spend 10 or 12 minutes in any one conversation, then move on," Cook said. It's easy to talk to one person the whole time, but you don't want to monopolize their time. If you feel rapport with the person you've met, Cook said, ask for their card and follow up later.

Cook's other tips for being effective at networking events:

Remember that you are there for the people, not the food.

Hold your beverage in your left hand so you aren't offering a cold or clammy hand to shake.

Put your nametag on your right side so people will see it when you shake hands.

Don't push your business card on others. If you want someone to have your card, ask for their card at the end of the conversation and mention that you would like to continue at a later date.

And remember: "There's nothing you can't get through with a smile, good posture, eye contact, a positive attitude and a firm handshake," Cook concluded.

For more on Patricia Cook, visit her website at patriciacookassoc.com.