For many of us, our twenties can be a rich time for personal self-discovery—a period of willingness to take risks and even make a few mistakes along the way. But these years can also be some of the most formative for another important facet of life: your career.
When you graduate, you may have an idea of what you want to be when you “grow up” but you may not have an idea of just how to get there. And while hindsight is 20/20, you don’t want to leave everything to chance—especially if it affects your future earning power.
1. Attend as many events as possible. There’s an unstated expectation that you come to networking events to support people. As a result, there are many people who are more than willing to help perfect strangers find a job, exchange contacts or give meaningful advice, but the key is to meet those people face-to-face. In other words, get off social media and start making real, human connections because no one can tell how charming you are over email.
2. Set networking goals. Before attending any event, you should have a clear purpose of why you’re going. Is it to meet as many people as possible to build your contact list? Or is it to meet a particular person? Then make sure to accomplish your goal before the event is over.
3. Order business cards. It may seem old school, but it’s still simpler to hand people a card as opposed to hovering over them as they input your info into a cell phone. Plus, you can’t hand your résumé to everyone you meet, but you can leave a card behind without seeming overbearing. Exchanging cards with an important contact allows you to follow up with a résumé later.
If you don’t have an existing business card, you can create a simple one for yourself that includes your name, address, phone number, and email, along with links to any relevant business sites, like a LinkedIn account or a personal website that displays your work or portfolio. A stack of cards won’t cost much, either.
4. Use a contacts manager app. The new people you meet can easily get lost amid the hundreds of contacts you log into your email address book and various social networking accounts. But using apps like Rapportive or Connect6º PeopleDiscovery can help you note identifying details—e.g., the C.E.O. that loves Coldplay—to jog your memory, and give you something to chat about the next time you meet.
5. Craft the perfect reply to “What do you do?” It may sound like a no-brainer, but you want to tell someone about your job in a way that encourages conversation as opposed to shutting it down.
6. Follow up—and mean it. When you meet people, let them know how you plan to follow up, either by connecting on LinkedIn, emailing or calling about scheduling a lunch, you should then do what you promise in a timely manner. Lack of follow-up is not good business.