For many who have not held a business development or sales oriented role, networking can be a scary unknown area in the professional arena. You’re told, “Go out and network and never stop networking!” Here’s how to network professionally.

How to Network: 6 Easy Steps to Follow

Inside, anxiety kicks in, you break into a cold sweat asking internally, “But what do I say? Where do I go? Can I do this alone?”

I remember my first networking event. I was 21. I just graduated from college, and I found myself in a room of people with fancy titles like ‘Counsel’ and ‘Managing Director’ and ‘Regional Territory Director’. Confession time: I was nervous. OK, really nervous. Why would they want to talk to a fresh grad like me?

Well, over the years and countless networking rooms later, I’ve learned networking is simpler than it seems! The more you can think about it as a friendly chat with another professional, the more pleasant the conversation will be; therefore, the more at ease you will be! There are nice people everywhere who just want to help others out where they can.

1. Research Professional Groups & Organizations

What kind of industry or specialty are you trying to reach as your next stepping stone? Your job is to find out where they hang out. Keep in mind you don’t have to go to corporate sponsored events or large fairs to network. Start simple and look at groups on or search FaceBook groups specific to your target. Meetup is a great way to get out of your comfort zone, to meet people with similar backgrounds and interests, and to practice talking to strangers!

To network with more targeted groups from a professional standpoint, search for professional organizations in your geographical area. For example, if I were targeting a Human Resources career in Los Angeles, I would Google search ‘human resources organizations los angeles’ and see if there are any professional organizations. I would then review the organization’s home page and search their calendar of events to put into my calendar. Oftentimes, organizations will host social mixers or meet-and-greets. If there are none, find the membership director or a contact number/email and inquire on their next event or other ways to learn more about the organization.

2. Order Business Cards

Now that you have done your research and you have some events marked on your calendar, be sure to bring business cards along with you. I like VistaPrint because they often have easy, simple, customizable cards for free – sans the cost of shipping (up to $10). You don’t need anything fancy, just an easy handout that includes your name, contact information (phone/email), a website if you have one (or include your customized LinkedIn URL), and what your current title is or what you are looking for.

Perhaps you are a student seeking engineering roles, then you can write, “Mechanical Engineering Student Graduating 2018”. If you are gainfully employed, you can write your current title, “Mechanical Engineer” for instance. The important thing is that your new contact knows who you are and how to contact you.

3. Breathe, Smile, and Break the Ice

Now that you have your shiny card and you’ve pulled up to the event, don’t forget to breathe and smile. It can be intimidating if you walk into a room and everyone’s already deep into conversation. Don’t sweat! You can wait until a group breaks, or you can politely approach and say, “I hope I’m not interrupting. I just arrived and am pleasantly surprised at the turn out. It’s my first time to this organization. Are you regular members?” – You don’t have to state this verbatim, just remember, you’re making polite conversation! That’s all. Give them something to follow up on instead of ‘Hi. How are you?’.

Sometimes I will introduce myself and say, “Hi. My name is Emily. What brings you here tonight?” or “Hi. My name is Emily. Who are you trying to network with today?” Generally, you want to start off finding out about the other person before you dive into your own gains! Which brings me to item number four…

RELATED10 Personal Development Tips to Advance Your Career

4. Reciprocate!

I’ve seriously had people come up to me at networking events and ask if I’m in the market to buy a new house. Nothing is the worse when they ask you a question, you say no, and that person walks off. Even if you find yourself talking to someone in a completely different field, it’s always good to end the conversation with, “What kind of people can I send your way if I bump into them later?” Usually people will reciprocate and ask who you are looking to connect with. It’s a good way to look out for one another and act as a resource in the room.

5. Make it Clear – Who Do You Want to Network With?

Be sure everyone you talk to knows who you are interested in speaking with. Your elevator pitch should be a few sentences. “Who am I? What do I do? Where am I headed?”

For example, I would start with, “Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m Emily. I’m a former recruiter who now helps the underemployed and unemployed with the earlier stages of their job search from writing resumes to negotiating salaries. I joined this event because I’m looking to connect with potential job seekers who need help in their search.”

Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to all come out in one sitting. Most networking is a dialogue. Just like you would chat with a friend, you are asking questions, they are asking questions, and information is gathered through a fun conversation. At the end of the conversation, that person should be able to answer those three questions: “Who am I? Where do I do? Where am I headed?”

6. Follow Up

Even if you talked to someone in a completely different industry or niche, you should still follow up. Go through your business cards, find them on LinkedIn, send a connection invite, and a quick message stating how nice it was to meet them at X event and you look forward to staying connected. If they are in your niche, now is the time to build a separate conversation offline. Follow up with something specific you talked about and ask if they are open to meeting up for coffee or scheduling a phone call about {insert: the company they work for, how they got to where they are today, an informational interview about the industry, etc.}. Relationships aren’t built in one day.

RELATED: 5 LinkedIn Profile Tips to Leave a Positive First Impression

Pro Tip: Have your LinkedIn app downloaded in the case your conversation partner doesn’t have a business card. Ask if you can send an invite to connect then and there as you would like to follow up and learn more about them. I’ve learned even though you give your business card out, not everyone is good about following up, so it’s better to initiate as much as possible.


Drop your email down below to get instant access to our FREE resource library packed with tools, templates, & guides!

Spread the love