By Alyssa Hermann, Portfolio Manager, Presidential Bank. Contributor: Michael Hube, Syndications VP, Fifth Third Equipment Finance Company. Edited by Alexandra Dressman, Sales Coordinator 3 AVP, Huntington Equipment Finance and Jon Gerson, President, Executive Solutions for Leasing & Finance, Inc. All are members of the ELFA Emerging Talent Advisory Council.
What is networking?
Networking is building quality relationships with people you like, admire and trust. Networking is authentically connecting with people by sharing information about yourself and asking engaging questions to help you learn about others. The objective is to understand how you might be able to help each other professionally and personally.
What are the benefits of networking?
Most people think job opportunities are the primary benefit of networking. While that might be true, there are many other advantages to growing your network, including gaining confidence, obtaining a new perspective, sharing industry best practices, receiving career advice, increasing your influence and developing friendships. Some of these benefits might materialize immediately whereas others will require patience and persistence.
“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.”
-Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
How do you network?
Opportunities to network present themselves every single day and should not be reserved only for specific events or occasions. Networking is most successful when you approach it with a genuine and selfless interest in other parties. There is no substitute for sincerity—collecting cards or pretending to be someone you are not will not serve you.
Since you will either be a brand by default or by design, it is important to be intentional about how you choose to differentiate yourself while networking. Develop a clear, concise and consistent introduction that gives people a variety of potential questions. Concentrate on building a rapport by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and sharing relevant information that will allow other people to connect and relate to you. Listen with the aim to understand, not respond.
When networking, use open and positive body language, make good eye contact, smile, perfect your handshake, wear your nametag on your right side and repeat people’s names. Developing an awareness of how you make others feel is especially important since your likeability will determine people’s desire to interact with you again. Finally, do not be afraid to take notes following a conversation and use them in your follow up (i.e., remembering someone’s birthday or asking about a vacation they were planning). The importance of following up after meeting and on a regular basis going forward to stay top of mind cannot be understated.
What is the takeaway?
While networking can be intimidating, it does not have to be. Networking is for everyone—not just extroverts or salespeople. Networking is more of an art than a science and, like all critical skills, takes practice to develop. The key to successful networking is to build relationships before you need them by finding ways to add value.