By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™
If you dread going to a business mixer because you might need to introduce yourself to strangers, you are not alone. Networking can be a challenge for us if we are shy or if we just find small-talk difficult. If you want a successful career, however, you’ll have to get over your resistance to talking about yourself and your career interests. Research by Catalyst continues to show that women in senior leadership positions tend to have much larger networks than those who are not executives.
What’s the best way to network? Have a strategy!
First practice your opening statement so that you don’t stumble. Extend your hand to land a firm handshake, make eye contact, and introduce yourself: “Hi, I’m Maria Hernandez and I have an executive coaching practice specializing in working with Latina managers and executives. I also blog about the Latina experience in the workplace. ”
Another important part of your strategy is to take the pressure off yourself and focus on how you want to get to know others at the event. In order to do this, you can plan for questions about Work, Interests, and Networking, or WIN. This will help you focus on learning something about the person’s work, their interests and whether there is any additional networking to do at a later point in time.
At most events, you will want to meet a new person every 10 – 15 minutes so that you have a chance to meet at least one person that might help your career and yes, someone you can help, too.
Begin with questions about work starting with some of the easiest to ask: Where do you work? How long have you been with Company X? What’s it like working there? What made you decide to work there? What do you like the most about your job?
Keep in mind that if you ask one of these questions you should expect that you will be asked these questions, too. Think about how you will answer those questions about yourself.
Next, take time to ask about the person’s interests. Sometimes there are some obvious questions about interests or hobbies when you are meeting at an event dedicated to a specific cause. For example, if you are attending your company’s charity event to raise funds for an after-school volunteer tutoring program, it is easy to ask: Have you ever volunteered here? Have you been a mentor or Big Brother or Big Sister to any of the children?
Be sure to observe their responses as this may lead to other questions such as: It sounds like you enjoy teaching, do you get a chance to train staff now? What do you often coach your staff about?
The final set of questions focus on whether the person can be of help to you or you can be of help to them as part of your network. Typically you’ll need to determine if they have access to people or opportunities you would like to pursue or if they have a set of skills and knowledge that you might need to access in the future.
If the person you are speaking to is a manager and you are looking for a change in your career, it is perfectly fine to say: I’d like to follow up with you and set up a time for an informational interview. May I have your card? Of course you’ll say thank you and speak about your interest in a specific career path.
When you’ve established that connection, you may want to move on to meet another person. In order to close that conversation and move to the next, I have found it best to say: Thanks for your time. I’ve really enjoyed meeting you and I look forward to connecting again later. You can shake hands and begin moving toward the rest of the people in the room to WIN again.
Tell me about how your co-workers respond to your new status at Latina Cubicle Confidential™ or join me live at the next LatinaVIDA™.
Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.