Have you ever forced yourself to go to a networking event you dread and ended up having fun? Great people, interesting conversations, potential opportunities – mission accomplished. Until you put that pile of business cards on your desk the next morning.
Now what do I do?
Last month I traveled to my first National Career Development Association annual conference. Now I’ve been to a lot of conferences – where I knew at least one other person. This time I’m alone and leading a session to boot. Yikes! But I had a blast and found a couple of new mentors, several new friends, and a potential client. Mission accomplished.
When I returned to Chicago, I unpacked a fistful of business cards along with product flyers and scribbled session notes. Glancing at my multi-page inbox, I stacked the cards in a corner of the desk with my pewter paperweight and ignored them. The irony of the courageous inspirational quote engraved on the paperweight did not register (see photo).
A few days later I’m still digging out when I receive a note from a young student I taught last year. I smile reading about her job search progress: she’s keeping up with industry trends, networking with new people, and attended her first conference ever. She finishes with a question: “I saw many important people from the firms that I have a dream to work for … and took their business cards … what should I do [with these cards]?” Luckily she can’t see my desk.
Here’s the 10 tips I gave her about handling new business cards – and then promptly remembered to get those cards off my own desk. Mission accomplished.
BEFORE/DURING YOUR EVENT
- Schedule time on your calendar to follow-up: when I register for an event, I add this appointment with myself.
- Aim for conversations about a specific topic: this establishes common ground to follow up on later.
- Listen for ways to be helpful: ask questions about another person’s current projects and/or goals. Offer assistance wherever you can.
- End conversations with: your appreciation, a request to contact again, which leads to receiving a card, and confirm any helpful action steps you’ve offered (“I’ll email you that article Monday”).
- Make these notes on his/her card, a notepad, or your phone: date, event, discussion, questions, and next steps.
AFTER YOUR EVENT
- Add contacts to your address book with the notes: In my contact management system, I’ve created custom fields for the date, spouse’s name, any children, and the place where we met.
- Establish “groups” or “categories” to filter your contacts: I also select group/s I’ve established when adding new contacts (i.e. NCDA); it’s faster than typing and I can run a search later if I forget a name but recall the event where we met.
- Send a brief, personal appreciation email, recalling the conversation and requesting another to learn more: a great subject line is “Enjoyed Meeting You at XXX.”
- Include simple action items in your email: longer-term actions should be confirmed in your message and handled within 2 weeks.
- Hold off on that LinkedIn request: LinkedIn connections are representations of relationships. After a single chat, you usually don’t yet have a relationship. I recommend sending connection requests after a second interaction. A single warm and personal message, followed by coffee or phone chat, will build your network faster than 500+ LinkedIn connections ever can.