Face-to-face networking may be one of the most detested phrases a career professional can hear. You mean I have to talk to strangers in person? Can’t I just email them? Isn’t it enough if I like their posts on LinkedIn? Sure, it is great to connect online. Most of our daily professional and personal interactions are virtual. However, there is a distinct value in meeting face to face. I have heard all of the excuses for not stepping into the real world for some live networking. Here are some suggestions to help you to get past those excuses.
I don’t have time to meet in person.
Face-to-face networking does not have to be a lengthy time commitment. Like you, most people are very busy. Offer to have a quick cup of coffee prior to a business event, class, or start of the work day. Having a previously-scheduled place to be at a certain time ensures your meeting will be confined to the time you set. For a networking check-in or get-to-know-each-other type meeting, a half-hour coffee break should be adequate.
It is going to seem weird to initiate a meeting.
It’s only weird if you make it weird. In other words, act naturally. Here is an example of an invitation email or text that you could send. “Hi Rob. Curtis at RayTech said you are an expert in solid base programming. I am considering a solid base course. Could I buy you a quick cup of coffee before work? I’d love to hear about your experience.”
There are a few things to avoid in the invitation: Don’t ask for a job. Don’t hint at needing a job. There should be nothing about getting a job in your note. Don’t deceive and pretend this is an offer of a project, etc. Don’t be a stalker. In other words, only ask people whom you’ve met (real life or virtually) or people referred by a common contact. Those messages can be a turn-off and may scare away a contact.
I am not a salesperson.
Say this aloud: Networking and relationship building are not just for sales people. Everyone networks. It is a natural part of human behavior to reach out and connect with other people. For many, offering support and encouragement is rewarding.
I don’t have enough to say.
Prepare your thoughts prior to the meeting. What would you like to learn from this person? Keep your plan in mind, but start the conversation flow with general pleasantries, such as “How is your family?” Did you enjoy your trip to Vermont?” “Can you believe those Mariners?” Time is limited, so be sure to allow time to get to the point. Actively listen and focus on the other person.
The Bottom Line
Personally connecting with colleagues enhances your career. The basic rules of networking apply even when meeting face to face. Therefore, make this a mutually-beneficial relationship in which you strive to give more than you receive. Carve time into your schedule to meet in person, and you’ll enjoy the benefits derived from a valuable core network of contacts.
Debra Wheatman, CPRW, CPCC is President of Careers Done Write, a premier career services provider focused on developing highly personalized career roadmaps for senior leaders and executives across all verticals and industries.