Networking. It’s one of those behaviors that comes naturally to some, or rapidly panics others. Whether you’re the former or the latter, networking is a skill that every professional must learn to do in order to expand their professional horizons. Networking with other professionals opens doors of opportunity, whether you’re looking to get a promotion, change industries, or simply make a name for yourself. For administrative professionals, networking means expanding the community of talented and informed assistants you can lean on for information, advice, tips, and connections.
Here are a few networking tips to take to your next administrative professionals conference.
Create a List of Contacts
Whether you’re going to a trade show, a seminar or an internal meeting, a list of attendees, speakers, or presenters is usually available on the event’s website or in the meeting invite. This is the perfect opportunity to jot down a few notes pertaining to the key people you want to speak with prior to the event. Decide ahead of time what your goals are for the event or meeting. Do you want to get specific information or do you need to meet a certain person because they could be important for future goals? If you want to make a move into the entertainment industry, for example, create a list of EAs who you know are in that industry and make it a point to introduce yourself to them at the networking event. Perhaps you want to learn best practices and techniques for dealing with more than one calendar; approach EAs whom you know support a team of executives. Once you decide on your goals, study the roster of attendees and decide who you would like to meet. Then, do your homework on Google and LinkedIn to gather the information you’ll need. When the opportunity to approach them arises, you will be prepared to not only compliment them on their presentation or their latest work, but you will also be able to cite some of their other recent accomplishments.
Find Common Ground
In the era of social media, texting, and email, the perception that it is difficult to approach someone for a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation is prominent, yet completely false. Approaching someone at a trade show can start by simply complimenting the color of their shirt, asking them where they got the notepad they are carrying, or engaging them based on the setting they are in, for example, “how did you hear about this seminar?” or, (if you’re in front of a company exhibit) “how did you hear of company XYZ?” Remember to exchange business cards with meaningful contacts you make, and ask if it would be OK to follow up on whatever you discussed. After all, establishing relationships with people is what networking is all about!
Remember to follow up with any contacts you make at networking events within 24 hours of the event. Here’s a tip: write down something unique about your conversation on the person’s business cards; if you discussed best practices for taking meeting minutes, jot that down. If you talked about the challenges involved in maintaining a detailed calendar, or dealing with a boss who is particular, take note. When you’re writing your emails to follow up with individuals and start to build relationships with them, you will be more memorable—and your conversation will be more meaningful—if you can mention something specific about the conversation you had in person. Follow up within 24 hours, and also follow up two or three weeks after the event; people are busy, and your first email may fall through the cracks. Be aware, however, if you don’t hear back after the second attempt, use your judgment. You don’t want to come off too strong, so be mindful of the signals you’re being sent.
Don’t underestimate the value of networking as an assistant, even if you don’t necessarily want to change careers, or are content with the level of administrative support responsibility you’ve achieved. Networking is an amazing way to gain resources and make contacts with people who may serve you—or who you may be able to serve—in the future.
By Seattle Municipal Archives (Flickr: Christmas party, 1952) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons