Networking 101: The Most Effective Ways to Introduce Yourself and Stand Out When Networking
Because you, too, can conquer networking.
Networking can seem confusing and overwhelming. As college students, many of us have little to no experience in the professional world outside of college, which is why networking is so important: It can help us to stand out amongst the crowd. However, as full-time students, it can be tricky to find the perfect way to introduce yourself to an industry professional. Although it can seem daunting, when you break it down, it’s all about presenting yourself in the most effective manner to professionals in your field.
But, relax – it’s not as hard as it seems. To help you craft your perfect introduction when networking, we spoke to career experts and accomplished professionals to get the best advice on how to introduce yourself and stand out from the crowd when networking.
Make a Good First Impression In The First Two Minutes
Obviously, you’ll want to impress whoever you’re meeting with pretty quickly – ideally, within the first few minutes upon meeting them. A good way to do this is to do your research ahead of time on the person, the company they’re currently working at, their previous experience, and so on.
“Doing your homework prior to a meeting, networking event, interview or career fair is key. Learn as much as you can about the person, company, position of interest so you can develop targeted questions. Going in prepared is the best way to make a great impression,” says Bridget Lichtinger, Assistant Director of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ Career Development Center.
You’ll also want to start off with a firm handshake – not too firm, not too soft. It sounds silly, but a handshake can truly make all the difference. Grab a friend or family member and ask them to practice shaking hands with you.
Also, make sure you’re constantly making eye contact with the other person (or people) to show that you’re focused, engaged, and professional. You’d be surprised by how many people unintentionally mess this up!
Craft an Elevator Pitch
One of the key components of meeting a potential contact for the first time is mastering a personalized “elevator pitch,” a brief yet concise introduction of yourself. Think of an elevator pitch as a personal sales pitch; for example, why you’d be perfect for the job, why you’re a great fit for the company, and so on.
“Elevator pitches should be concise but convey a lot of information. Focus on the most important relevant facts about you that fit the situation,” says Janet Ruth Heller, award-winning author and president of the Michigan College English Association.
You also may want to consider having multiple elevator pitches, depending on who you’re meeting with, and / or if you’re undecided in your major or what you want to do post-grad. Even if you choose to create several elevator pitches, they should all contain the same key information and be professional and persuasive.
“Your elevator pitch should include your name, your job title or what you do, what problem you solve and why you're different. Always end with a question! Your goal is to always do more listening than you do speaking,” says Ryann Dowdy, founder of Uncensored Consulting.
In order to ensure your elevator pitch comes off natural and not too rigid, practice saying it out loud in the mirror over and over again – it can make all the difference.
Make Yourself Valuable
When networking, you want to market yourself as a valuable addition to any company, team, or field. As college students, we have very little professional experience, aside from internships, so this may sound challenging. However, there are other ways to make yourself valuable to the people you meet when networking, and this can work in your favor.
“When you're networking, you have to constantly seek to provide value. Can you connect the person you're talking with to someone else you know? Do you have a fun tip or suggestion for what they're working on? Early on in your career, this might feel daunting - but we all have value to provide. Often times, just a different perspective can set you apart from everyone else talking about themselves non-stop,” says Dowdy. Many employers will find value in hearing a Gen Z perspective, so don’t discount yourself because of your experience or age.
What About Fun Facts?
Honestly, these can be a bit tricky. How does one find the perfect not-cliche-but-also-relatable-and-unique “fun fact? Despite the challenge, they do help to add some “fun” to a conversation. These little tidbits provide the other individual with additional information about yourself, your hobbies, interests, and etc. Who knows, you may even have something in common with the person you’re talking to, which can set you apart.
“Think of it as a tennis match – the conversation needs to go back and forth. Adding fun facts is a great way to keep it going, but be careful that it doesn’t go out of bounds,” says Lichtinger.
If you’re stuck on what “fun facts” to share during your networking meeting, stick to basic facts that are also unique to you, such as your favorite sports team, where you’re from, and what makes you different. “This is a good way to be memorable and strike up a conversation, especially if you have something in common with someone,” says Tiffani Murray, HR Professional and Consultant.
All in all, networking is nothing more than developing solid, professional relationships with potential peers and individuals in the working world. And although networking can be nerve-wracking, just remember to have fun with it. It’s all about meeting new people, hearing about different industries and companies, and gaining knowledge. With time and practice, you’ll become a seasoned networking pro in no time.