Professionals at every level often struggle to hit their stride in networking situations. Selling yourself in a friendly, nonthreatening, yet assertive way can be one of the hardest business skills to master. Yet career experts routinely point to networking as one of the most critical elements in a successful job search–and a successful career.
The most successful businessmen and women are frequently serial networkers. It’s how they make deals, grow their business, and keep their fingers on the pulse of their industry. It’s well worth your time to learn the art of networking well.
Andy Molinsky at the Harvard Business Review has a few useful suggestions. He points to research that highlights the difference between American vs. foreign perceptions of networking situations. The vast majority of Americans favor a networking approach that is confident and direct, while foreigners often feel that this approach is rude, overly forward, and too aggressive. Molinsky’s tips to foreigners trying to master the art of “American-style networking” are equally applicable to Americans who don’t yet feel comfortable promoting themselves face to face. Here they are:
Learn from those around you: Watch carefully how others operate in networking situations, and learn what behaviors work and don’t work in that setting. Customize your own approach from what you observe to develop a style that feels authentic to you, and that is also effective in the new setting.
Master the new cultural logic: Learn the rationale for this new behavior from the perspective of the new culture. Learn, for example, why “small talk” is such an important part of networking in the United States. Understand from the American point of view why it’s actually appropriate to speak positively about yourself and your qualifications. Master the logic of the new culture and the behavior will feel much more comfortable to perform.
Finally, Practice! Practice multiple times, and ideally in settings that mimic the stress and pressure of real situations. Integrate the behavior so deeply into your psyche that it becomes your “new normal” — something you do naturally and instinctively.
The most important thing to take away from Molinsky’s tips is that anyone can be a great networker. Once you do it enough, you’ll naturally become comfortable promoting yourself effectively.