What do Cleveland, baseball’s Opening Day, and a communications job have in common? Networking, of course! Let me explain.
In 2013, I was one of 200 Progressive employees selected to participate in the Opening Day ceremonies at Progressive Field in Cleveland. I was working as an auto damage claims adjuster in Seattle at the time and—if I’m being honest—I really didn’t think I’d be chosen. But once the shock wore off, I decided to make the most of my trip to Progressive’s headquarters by networking.
I never thought the networking I did there would change my life. I was interested in communications and ended up having a conversation with a communications manager. Five months later, after watching the job board for communications roles and applying to one I was qualified for, I moved to Cleveland to work under that same manager.
Any meeting or event can turn into a chance to network. Here are four networking tips to get you started.
1. Nail your first impression
Networking is all about talking with people and building relationships. And just like in any other social activity, first impressions are important. Make yours count by being polite and (above all) you.
If you’re nervous about meeting new people, try practicing with family or friends. You can even come up with a few conversation starters beforehand so you’re ready to chat. I was so glad I came to Cleveland with a couple work-related topics already in mind. It saved me from having to think of something to talk about when I was nervous.
2. Ask questions
One of the most common networking mistakes is talking too much about yourself. Many fall into this trap because they’re eager to showcase their experience. However, networking effectively is all about building professional relationships, and relationships are two-way streets.
Take time to get to know people: who they are, what they do, their background. Beyond laying the groundwork for a good networking relationship, chances are you’ll learn something from their experiences. The people I met during the Opening Day event not only joined my network but also became trusted colleagues and friends.
3. Make sure to talk about your interests
You wouldn’t expect an auto damage claims adjuster to be interested in communications. But I have a communications degree as well as a background in writing—something I discussed with Progressive’s communications team at the Opening Day event when the time was right. This helped direct the conversation to finding out how they got into corporate communications.
One of the greatest benefits of networking is learning from others. However, you won’t gain the insights you want if you don’t make your interests known. Look for opportunities to put your aspirations out there.
4. Make sure you follow up
Networking successfully doesn’t mean you’re “one-and-done” when the event is over. To get the most out of any networking experience, ask the people you meet for their contact information and follow up to keep your connections alive. That doesn’t mean burying your newfound contact in emails—it’s important to respect their time. But at the very least initiate contact, see if they’re willing to stay in touch, and then go from there.
I had several great conversations during the Opening Day event at Progressive Field. But my networking efforts were far from over when I left. As soon as I got home, I reached out to the people I met, thanked them for connecting with me, and kept the conversations going.
Over the course of the next few months, I regularly touched base with the communications manager I’d met at Opening Day. I also followed through with their tips for gaining communications experience within the company. When a job became available on their team later that year, I was well-positioned to apply.
Not all networking opportunities will lead to a new job, of course. Some can turn into new partnerships. Others might lead to a fulfilling mentorship. Regardless of the outcome, employing these networking best practices can help you gain professional connections that will enhance your career.