Ah, networking. You either love it or you hate it.
No matter which end of the spectrum you’re on, networking is undeniably an important part of “climbing the corporate ladder” in most fields of work.
Unfortunately for many of us, the key to successful networking is the ability to effectively mingle (a term which likely evokes a similar emotion as the word “networking”).
But mingling when it comes to networking events is not your average, everyday mingling. Mingling for the purposes of networking requires a different type of etiquette altogether.
“The Critical Few”
According to business strategist Andrew Sobel in his book Power Relationships, the key to effective mingling at networking events is determining who is most important and focusing your time developing relationships with those people.1
When the success of your career is at stake, there’s no time to waste on building relationships with people whose skill sets are irrelevant to your needs.
Eric Pye, certified resume strategist and career adviser, suggests that doing some “homework” before attending networking events can be a great way to “get a foot in the door” and set yourself up for success before you ever arrive at the event.2
Using the wonderful world of the Internet, you can get a pretty good idea of who will be at the event; if you know who will be at the event, you can figure out who it will be most beneficial for you to spend your time with.
Pye recommends sending a quick message to these “critical few” via LinkedIn or another social media platform to let them know you’re looking forward to meeting them.2 This will get your name floating around the cyber-sphere and help you to better stand out when you meet them in person.
The Rule of 1-2-3
When networking, time is the most valuable resource you have. Using it effectively will help you to maximize the impact of your mingling and see better results.
Pye’s “rule of 1-2-3” is a great way to do this. He suggests approaching people who are on their own first.2 You won’t have to fight your way into a group, and they’ll likely be very welcoming since they won’t be distracted by other people and conversations. Additionally, you will be more memorable if you can find a way to be the sole focus of the conversation.
Groups of two should be your next focus once you’ve approached anyone standing alone that you’d like to talk to. Even if only one of the two is someone you’re interested in talking to, be sure to introduce yourself to both people as a sign of professionalism and respect.
Groups larger than two should be the last ones you hit since they will take up more of your time as you wait your turn to get involved in the discussion.
If the person you’re looking to talk to is in a group of 3 or more, it’s important to decipher whether or not the group is open to other people.
Pye recommends analyzing the shape of the group they’re standing in to determine whether or not it’s a good time to approach.
An open formation, such as a V- or U-shaped group, is easy to approach.2 This shape indicates that newcomers are welcome because nothing exclusive or personal is being discussed.
On the other hand, a closed-circle (which would be much more difficult to break into anyway) can indicate that a closed discussion is taking place and it would not be appropriate for someone else to enter the conversation at that time.
Read more: How to join a group conversation.
This is because people tend to gather closer when discussing something important, while most casual conversations tend to maintain a looser grouping.
The formation pattern of a group of people can indicate whether or not it’s a good time to approach so that your time is used as efficiently as possible.
People who are good at mingling have an advantage over their peers, especially when it comes to networking; developing relationships with people who can benefit your career will give you a strong edge over those who are trying to “go it alone.”
Mingling doesn’t have to be difficult if you know what to look for: determining ahead of time who you need to talk to, using the rule of 1-2-3, and analyzing the formation patterns of groups of people are three strategies for maximizing your time and mingling effectively at networking events.
Read more: How to mingle at a work party.
How do you use networking to benefit your career? Share your strategies in the comments below!
- Zetlin, Minda. 2014. How to network like you really mean it. Inc.com.
- Pye, Eric. 2014. Mingle like a pro at networking events. LinkedIn.