Whether speaking to other people terrifies you or energizes you, networking is a crucial part of moving up the career ladder and broadening your horizons. But there’s nothing worse than leaving a networking meeting feeling like it didn’t go as well as it could have.
What should you do before any networking situation to ensure success? Experts explain the four most critical things to consider before stepping into any coffee meeting.
1. Have a specific goal in mind
It may seem obvious, but having a plan is crucial if you want to build any sort of professional relationship.“Whatever your desire is, you want to have clarity on that before you walk in,” says Ashley Stahl, a millennial career coach.
For instance, do you want to learn how the person made a particular transition in their career? Are you looking for the person’s insight into a particular challenge you’re facing? Having a goal—and clearly expressing it—makes it easier for the other person to understand how they can help you.
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2. Do your research
While you certainly don’t need to look up every single social-media site a person posts on before heading into a networking meeting, take time to look someone up on LinkedIn, read through their profile and look for mutual interests. Don’t be afraid to do some Google searching, either.
If you want to take it a step further, Hannah Morgan, a career and professional branding expert, recommends reading anything the person has written online. “See if they have published anything on LinkedIn by checking the section immediately below the first contact section,” she says. “Read the post(s), and be prepared to ask questions about what they’ve written during the conversation.”
Read more: The 4 Golden Rules of Networking
3. Practice your elevator pitch
“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most common job interview and networking conversation prompts, says Stahl, so having a good answer is crucial. “I highly recommend thinking about the ‘why’ behind why you’re pursuing the career you’re in,” she says. “Purpose is universal, and it’s a great way to authentically connect.”
As an added bonus, someone will be better able to help you find a job you love if you talk about your values and what you’re really looking for in your career.
Read more: A Networking Guide for Introverts
4. Consider how you can help them
One of the biggest mistakes young professionals make is that networking meetings should be all about them. In reality, the complete opposite is true.
People want professional relationships that benefit them, too, and the more that you show you’re willing to go out on a limb, the more room there is for any professional relationship to grow. “While you never need to overextend yourself, always keep your ears open for an opportunity to be of service,” says Stahl.
Stahl recommends asking, “How can I add more value here?” Can you introduce this contact to someone else who’s looking to hire someone just like them? If so, offer to make the intro.