A friend of mine who is retired invited a group of women over for a Christmas open house and luncheon. She is in her 80’s, but is very young at heart, has had a fascinating life, and has a very interesting circle of friends. I knew some of the women that were attending, but was surprised to see a lot of new faces. I hadn’t considered this a networking opportunity, but at the end of the afternoon I had met a lady who is a children’s book author and gave me a contact at her publisher’s office. I also learned about a writer’s group that includes this author and several others that meet to write and critique each other’s manuscripts. I met another woman who was a consultant/educator and had developed a course for the schools on quality models, which is similar to a program I have been developing for schools. I like to knit, and met another woman who teaches knitting courses at a new yarn shop in our area, and she invited me to come join her group on Monday’s at the shop.
Fortunately, I always carry business cards with me, and was able to give these interesting women my card. I already have heard from the consultant, and she is going to send me a copy of her course outline to review. I never would have considered this “ladies luncheon” a networking opportunity, but it proves that any time you are in a group of people there is an opportunity to meet someone who can offer you an opportunity, information or contacts that can help in your job search or career.
How can you be prepared for these surprise networking opportunities? Here are some tips for making the most of every situation:
1. Always carry business cards. I have a business card holder that fits in my bag and keeps the cards clean and neat. It’s also handy for storing cards from others. You won’t make a good impression if you are fumbling around, searching through a purse or pockets for a business card or find one that is creased and dirty.
2. Have a planner, small notebook or use your Smartphone or Blackberry to record notes, phone numbers, dates and meetings on the spot. Be sure to get people’s names, and write them down. Find a moment after a conversation and make a few notes for the future, to follow up on a conversation, or record a reminder of a future meeting.
3. If you are looking for a job, always have a clean copy of your resume in your portfolio, briefcase, or in your car. Be sure it is updated, and available to send via email.
4. Instead of an “elevator speech,” put together a few sentences describing your business or job needs, what you have to offer and why you are a qualified, unique individual. Focus on your accomplishments and how your skills and initiative benefitted your last employer.
5. Treat every situation as a potential networking opportunity. Be friendly, make small talk, and make an attempt to get to know people. The best conversationalists don’t talk much. They ask questions and let other people talk instead of shining the spotlight on them.
Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a freelance writer, blogger, and workplace consultant. Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in "Training" magazine, "Training & Development" magazine, "Supervision," "Pulse" and "The Savannah Morning News." You can read her blogs at www.skirt.com/savannahchick, www.workingsmartworks.blogspot.com/ and on the web at www.mjnhconsulting.com.