The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s the best way to network? is written by Shadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USA.
I recently met a newly minted graduate who was desperately seeking a job. She was applying to countless positions online, sending out a forest worth of resumes, and even cold-calling companies, all with no success. While she understood networking was important, the process seemed daunting. Unfortunately, too many people wait to start networking until they are actively seeking a job.
The truth is, you should be developing a network before you need to start a job search. Start now by using a combination of professional sites like LinkedIn as well as speaking with people in your extended network. Reach out to past professors, family and friends of friends to gain valuable information and insight.
Making the most out of formal networking opportunities requires planning and research. You need to think about who you want to meet, why you want to meet them, and perhaps most importantly, why they would want to meet and stay in touch with you. Here is a list of steps to get started:
Create your ideal list
Make a list of five to 10 people you would want to meet based on your interest in their backgrounds as individuals or their company affiliations. Then use your resources — their company websites, social media channels, or business publications (like Fortune!) — to learn more about the industry. The people you meet will want to see that you understand their work and passions.
Before you start networking, think about what it is that makes you unique, innovative and compelling. Have you led a successful project? Do you have examples of your tenacity, creativity or leadership ability? Practice speaking about your own value proposition. Be ready to tell your story in a way that highlights your strengths and connects you to the person in a thoughtful, genuine way. If you have an idea of how your knowledge, experience and capabilities match the company’s ambition, make sure to share it.
You can connect with people almost anywhere. To be most effective, use a mix of online and offline resources to start conversations and build networks. You can use trade associations, industry conferences, Meetup groups, LinkedIn groups and everything in between to meet people and grow relationships. By participating in groups and events that excite you, you are naturally more likely to meet people who share your interests.
Be genuine and generous
What sets great networkers apart from serial meet-and-greeters is that they take a genuine interest in others and want to understand how they can be of service to someone else’s goals and ambitions. You may have a relationship to a person or access to resources that someone else does not have. The answer to who those resources can help may not be immediately clear, but the simple act of approaching networking from this perspective changes the entire tone of the discourse. People are more willing to help you when they see that you genuinely care about their goals.
Be considerate, curious and concise
When you do make new connections — whether it’s in person or online — ask for a few minutes to speak with them to gain insight into their career. Ask questions about what has made them successful, what they enjoy about what they do, and what skills or qualities are necessary to thrive in their company or industry. Pay attention to their responses and remember that the smallest details count. Finally, whether you meet them in person or virtually, always thank them for their time. Courtesy is always appreciated.
Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the best way to network?
Forget what you know about networking. Do this instead by Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge.
3 networking mistakes you don’t know you’re making by Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite.
Why face-to-face networking will never go out of style by Kevin Chou, co-founder and CEO of Kabam.
How to effectively network (even if you dread it) by David DeWolf, president and CEO of 3Pillar Global.
The only thing you need to keep in mind when networking by William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.
Why social media alone won’t get you a job by Gary Vaynerchuk, co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia.
NYSE President: I owe every job I’ve ever had to networking by Tom Farley, president of the NYSE.