You've probably heard that you need to attend your office's holiday party. You'll be treated to free food, good music (hopefully), and a once-a-year opportunity to network with folks within your company whom you rarely never see.
But there are other events that come around regularly; informal situations that are ideal for networking. Grab a fresh stack of business cards, perfect your elevator speech, and keep your eyes and ears peeled during these five everyday situations:
1. Sporting Events. Sporting events and networking go hand in hand, ever since people began negotiating on the golf course. "We tell our M.B.A. students that if you're going to go into corporate America and you don't know how to play golf, then you should probably learn," says Cynthia Kay Stevens, an associate professor at University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "It's the natural thing for you to have in common with a business associate." Other sporting events—whether you're a spectator or participant—also make for great opportunities to meet and greet. And the commonality of enjoying ski trips or cheering on your children at a weekly soccer game will give you an easy intro into a conversation.
Since it's natural for new acquaintances to discuss what they do career-wise, you'll have to plan carefully what you'll say and how you'll say it. Karen James Chopra, a licensed professional counselor with a specialization in careers, suggests memorizing a target statement about yourself for networking on the fly. "If you just say 'I'm currently unemployed,' that's going to be a conversation killer," she says. "Try something like, 'I'm currently unemployed, but what I'm looking to do next is X, Y, and Z,' so that the conversation can keep going. [Your target statement] doesn't have to be a full elevator speech, but it should be prepared like one."
Networking Dos and Don'ts for Sporting Events
Don't miss your kid scoring the winning goal on account of your schmoozing.
Do nurture a new friendship by talking sports and careers.
2. Charity Events. Like sporting events, charity functions are occasions when people gather with a common interest. In other words, you should be able to find a simple entrée into a conversation with a stranger—your mutual interest in autism research, for instance. But if you're having trouble, Stevens offers advice that she recalls hearing recently from a networking expert. "She suggested that you strategically place yourself near the food or drinks table, because that's where the most people congregate," Stevens says. "Then rely on a couple of generic questions you can ask to the people who approach the table. Things like asking about the parking, the traffic, the food, even distributing a compliment—these are small things that provide an opening."
"Try to connect with people on a personal level first," adds Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach and founder of the Atlanta-based company Create Your Own Career Path. "Because that's going to make for a deeper, meaningful relationship sometimes. Consider starting conversations by talking about a recent movie you've seen, or a recent vacation you've enjoyed."
Networking Dos and Don'ts for Charity Events
Don't harass guests while they're trying to make a silent auction bid.
Do stand near the food and drink table so you can meet the passersby.
3. Weddings. Waiting for the processional to begin. Standing in the receiving line. Milling about the cocktail hour. Weddings are rife with networking opportunities. And one perk to meeting business contacts this way is that you'll be wearing your Sunday best, which usually makes for a good first impression. "I've told women to make sure their business cards are in their evening bags," says Chopra when asked about meeting new people during formal events. "Then while sitting at the reception, be sure to ask your table mates what they do," she adds.
Just make sure to maintain a level of professional decorum if you think there's the potential for networking. Even though a wedding is a party, you still want to "maintain your professional composure," says Crawford. "Smile, be warm, be enthusiastic, and have a positive attitude. Behave as you would at a workplace, and talk to [the people you meet] in a professional way."
Networking Dos and Don'ts for Weddings
Don't cross the aisle during the ceremony to meet a new business contact.
Do strike up a conversation with a table mate at the reception.
4. Beauty Salons. "The whole objective of networking is to get contacts beyond your usual group," Chopra says. "Your hairdresser has this huge network of people that you wouldn't normally have the opportunity to interact with." So the next time you're having your ends trimmed or your roots dyed, consider asking your cosmetologist if he or she has other clients that work in your field. There's usually a certain amount of trust between a stylist and regular clients, so your stylist probably wouldn't recommend you to or for someone unless he or she believed it could prove a fruitful relationship.
You should also break the ice with fellow clients you see during your salon visits. "Networking in an informal scenario [such as the hair salon] could probably create a lasting contact for you," says Crawford. "A person that you meet could help you now, or maybe could help you in the long run. Your objective is to meet new people as opposed to finding a new job. Go into social circumstances with an open mind."
Networking Dos and Don'ts for Beauty Salons
Don't assault a potential associate while he or she is under the dryer.
Do ask your stylist if he or she would be willing to take one of your business cards.
5. Places of Worship. The bonus to networking with people at a place of worship is that you probably share a certain level of trust (similar to your familiars at the hair salon). But you don't want to exploit that trust by opportunistically soliciting career advice during services. So what are some ways to make sure you stay on propriety's right side? Most importantly, leave the shop-talk for before and after. Chopra has two additional rules: "One is, never ask someone to do anything for you that they can't do by opening their mouth," she says. "If you're asking them to call someone for you, or research someone for you, then you're putting the burden of a job search on their shoulders."
"Rule no. 2 is don't make them do your thinking," Chopra continues. "You shouldn't be asking them to help you form a career path, or give you ideas. Do your own thinking ahead of time. Know what questions you're struggling with and ask them, but don't ask them to do it for you."
Networking Dos and Don'ts for Places of Worship
Don't disrupt the service with your job-hunting chatter.
Do form friendships with people in the congregation who have similar career aspirations.
Rules on Following Up. Finding the appropriate segue to follow up with a new associate might seem unnatural during one of these events. After all, a wedding isn't a job fair. Experts recommend taking these three steps if you want to maintain contact:
1. Ask permission. Directly state your interest in speaking further. "Make sure you get their contact information. You can't leave it in their hands," Crawford says. "Say something like, 'It was great talking to you, and I'd like the chance to follow up later. Would that be OK?' That lays the ground rules and lets them decide if and how they'd like to have contact with you."
2. Use email as your default contact. If your new associate doesn't state a preferred method for communication, go with email first. "At this point in your relationship, you should say what you need to in writing," Chopra says. "When you send your email, be clear on where you met, reiterate that it was a lovely conversation you had, and once again ask for more of their time."
3. Follow up quickly. "It's good to follow up in a couple of days after meeting someone new," Stevens says. "If you meet someone one weekend and then let several other weekends pass by, then you've allowed their focus to go elsewhere."