When it comes to success and climbing up the “professional ladder,” having a solid network of mentors can be a powerful thing, especially for young, black women. My mentors have played a huge role in getting me where I am today. Overall, the people within your network should be diverse when it comes to age, profession and racial background, but starting off with a solid network of black professional mentors can put you on the right track.
When I was first introduced to networking, I absolutely hated it. The idea of making surface level conversations with people I barely knew wasn't for me and was damn near exhausting. But then I realized networking was a part of the game, and if I wanted to build my stamina when it came to networking, I had to learn to step out my comfort zone. In doing this, I came up with a game plan. Just like in sports, when it comes to networking, you have to learn the rules of the game in order to be great at it. I’m a huge basketball fan, so for the purpose of this explanation I’ll use the techniques of the game to better explain ways in which you can perfect your networking abilities.
Before you start to play any game you have to know the rules. Theses rules tend to be a pre-written standard of conduct that each player has to go by.
When you go into networking events be prepared. Nothing is more embarrassing than falling flat on your face during the game because you weren't prepared to play, or even worse, you didn't know the rules of the game before getting on the court. So, first things first, get your 30-second elevator pitch, or brief introduction about yourself in order. That way you’re not caught off guard. It doesn’t have to be rehearsed, but be comfortable enough with it to be able to work a room when presented with the opportunity to do so. Next, get a good set of business cards to keep on hand. Personally, I love moo.com. They have great sales where you can get a pack of 100 cards for $20.
Know Your Opponent
Someone who competes against or fights another in a contest, game, or argument; a rival or adversary.
Although when networking you’re not competing against anyone, the basic idea of doing your research to know your opponent is great. For the purpose of this example think of your opponent as the different professionals you want to network with while at a specific networking event. Any great basketball player will tell you that they try to know who the key players on the other team will be before they come in contact with them. In doing this, they are able to better interact with those opponents once face to face with them. In this day and age, we have access to a lot of information on platforms such as LinkedIn. Think of LinkedIn as your “go-to” home girl, you know the one who has the latest gossip on everyone and everything.
Just like your home girls, LinkedIn is a great tool to use when you are trying to learn information about various professionals in your industry. Before going to a networking event take the time to look up the people who will be in attendance (you can usually find a list of key attendees on the event's website). Knowing who you could potentially be interacting with will give you the ability to take surface level conversations and transform them into something deeper. (P.S. Being up to date on current events is always a good look. I recommend signing up for theskimm; they do a great job at summarizing what’s going on in the world, in a way that is very easy to digest).
An outfit you wear during the game that is distinct to you and your team.
Presentation is everything, and first impressions last longer than you think. When it comes to looking the part you have to be willing to make the investment, but that doesn't mean you have to go broke doing so. Balling on a budget is a real thing, so I recommend getting staple items to help get you started. When I first started networking, my staple items included a black dress, a navy skirt, a black skirt, and about four or five blouses that were in my closet specifically for networking events. If you need help figuring out how to mix up your outfits look up capsule outfits on Pinterest. When it comes to shoes, I hate wearing heels, but I make sure I have at least a few pair that I don't mind putting on for a few hours when I attend events where I will be networking. Payless Comfort Soles are my go to for this…. yes, I said Payless. At the end of the day, no one at a networking event is worried about if you have named brand shoes on or not. But I mean, if that's not your thing, do you. Whatever you do, bring a pair of flats with you.
Bringing flats that I can switch into at the end of a long networking event tends to be my saving grace. Lastly, have a few pair of stockings that match your complexion. It may sound old fashion, but it does complete your professional and “uniform” look that will leave a good lasting impression on the professionals you interact with.
Momentum is the same as “being in the zone,” or whatever other phrase describes playing
really well for a sustained period of time.
Networking can be draining, I get it. So make sure you re-energize yourself during a networking event by defining your purpose. Every good player has something that motivates him or her. When trying to build your momentum ask yourself the following question: What’s your purpose in building your power network? What are your goals? Is it gain more knowledge about an
Industry you’re interested in or is it to be better known within your particular industry of choice. Once you determine your motivations, tap into them when you are networking to help build your momentum.
A direct encounter between two different people that often times becomes an opportunity used to grow one's skill level.
If you’re still in school, get help at your career services office. These one-on-one encounters can be very vital when it comes to preparing for networking opportunities that may come up throughout the year. During this time have someone look over your resume and ask them to give you their professional advice when it comes to what to say or what questions to ask at networking event.
If you’re not in school anymore, no worries. Seek out someone you know who might have graduated before you, and ask them for help. Sometimes I think we overlook the knowledge we have as young professionals, we honestly know a lot more than we tend to think we do. Although the advice may not be from a recruiting professional it is always great to get an extra set of eyes to catch any overlooked typos. Use your resources to your advantage.
A player who passes the ball to a teammate in a way that leads to a score, meaning that he or she was "assisting" in the basket. There is some judgment involved in deciding whether a passer should be credited with an assist.
Like I said before, we as black women can be a powerful force to reckon with when we stop competing against each other and help one another out.
Scenario One: You are at a networking event and come in contact with a person who might not necessarily be someone you want in your network, but would be great for one of your friends who is currently seeking someone like the person you met. Do you A: get the business card of the professional and then keep it moving or do you B: tell the person “Hey I have a great friend who would probably love to talk with you. Do you mind if I give them your contact information?” The correct answer is B.
You are as strong as your network. So make your network worth investing in and vouching for. When doing this, it is important that you notice who is real and who isn't when it comes to the people you place value in. Like an assist, you have to use good judgment when vouching for someone else. Figure out the people in your network who are worth vouching for, and help them out with the mindset and expectation that they will do the same for you.
If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, the teams play multiple five-minute overtime periods until one team has a higher score than the other.
What's going to set you apart from everyone else who spoke with the professionals that you networked with at the event? The answer is the way you follow up during overtime. Networking doesn't stop the moment the event ends. One of the biggest mistakes one of my mentors told me is that people fail to follow up after networking events. It’s like people have a false impression that the game is over, so they let their guard down thinking they’ve won. In reality, sending the email is just the beginning of the networking process. When I meet people at networking events, I try to step aside to write one key thing about our conversation that would strike up the person's memory when I follow up with them later on. Usually when I follow up with someone, I say something along the line of, “It was great meeting you,” and then I begin to develop a dialogue for a future interaction (maybe inviting them out to coffee).
A stop in the play. This allows the player or team to regroup and/or communicate a message to the team.
If you invite someone to coffee, make sure you are the one paying for it. Think of it as a kind thank you gesture to show that you appreciate the time they gave you (this goes back to the idea of making an investment).
If you don’t have the opportunity to meet up for coffee, email them to see if they would be willing to chat with you on the phone for about 15-20 minutes instead.
A point in which players are able to showcase their skill levels with an overall end goal of winning.
They email you back (hopefully) and now you have opened the door for a relationship to be established. At this point it’s up to you to keep it going. When doing this, be mindful that these individuals are busy professionals who get their email inbox flooded throughout the day. If they don’t reply to you right away, don't take it personally; simply send a follow-up email 1-2 weeks after the initial e-mail was sent reintroducing yourself. Remember there is a fine line between being “annoying” and being persistent when it comes to networking (make sure you remain on the persistent side by being respectful and understanding of their time obligations).
After you meet up over the phone or in person, make sure you send them a handwritten thank you note (work addresses can usually be found on business card or you can usually find it on the company’s website). If you know me, then you know that I am lowkey addicted to thank you cards. It adds an indescribable personal touch to the person you are sending it to. You would not imagine the amount of professionals who have emailed me back after receiving my thank you note to express how much it meant to them.
TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and even Target sell great thank you cards for as low as $6 for a pack of 12 (if not cheaper).
Use holidays, promotions and birthdays as an excuse to stay connected with the individuals in your network. If you have not signed up for Google Alerts, I recommend that you do. Google Alerts are a great way to stay up to date with what’s going on with the people in your network. If you already have people in your network but are confused to how to retain a solid relationship with these individuals, I recommend setting up a convenient time where you both are able to chat and keep each other accountable at least 2-3 times a year. I call this time with my mentors “check yourself moments,” where we set aside a time during the summer and winter to make sure we are both challenging ourselves to get to where we both want to be.
The key players on your team who actively participate in the game once it begins and are commonly referred to as starters due to their skill level and performance level.
After you have met and began to foster a relationship with new contacts in your network, create a starting lineup of key mentors and lean on them whenever you need advice or someone to talk. These individuals should be confident in their abilities, reliable resources and dedicated to your success. Remember when crafting your overall network, quality is always better than quantity.