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1. Find your core belief
All networking starts with you -- and the core belief that defines the work you do. Once you have established who you are and what it is you do, you'll start attracting others like yourself. This is where working on your "elevator pitch" is so critical -- even if you don't have a job. What is it you want to be doing, or what is it that you have been doing that your connections might help seed into conversations with prospective employers? Knowing who you are and what you believe in creates trust, which sets the foundation for strong professional and personal relationships.
2. Ask, "How can I help you?"
While you may need a lot of help landing your next gig or finding a mentor, be sure not to approach every conversation thinking, "What's in it for me?" Instead, consider how you can be valuable to others. With this approach, you're not only building a relationship that will actually benefit you in the long run, but you're also getting important background information on the other person, which will help establish trust and loyalty. You're making it clear that you can be trusted and are willing to help -- a favor that will likely be returned later.
3. Initiate introductions
Have you ever noticed how some people seem to know everyone -- and those people are at every event? Knowing people isn't just important to boost your LinkedIn profile; being able to make meaningful introductions can lead to powerful business opportunities and other important relationships. As you introduce others within your network, your colleagues and business associates will introduce others to you -- and you never know where those connections will lead to in your career. Just be sure when making connections that your conversations are relevant and contextual; find out about their families and what's important to them in their careers. The more you know, the more the relationship will benefit over the years to come.
4. Think Quality Over Quantity
At any event or conference there may be thousands of people you could easily walk up to and start a conversation with -- or even several hundred you could meet through a friend attending the event with you. However, it's often the people you meet at dinners, happy hours, or while sharing an outlet to charge up your phone who can be the most valuable. Meeting the right people -- instead of the most people -- is critical for growing your network.
If you don't know where to start, consider joining the conference's Facebook group or sending out a message on Twitter to get to know other attendees and "vet" who you should actually spend time with. Also, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open when on the ground. You never know who you will run into -- such as a famous keynote speaker -- when grabbing coffee across the street from the conference. Stranger things have happened, and these serendipitous moments often can benefit your career in ways you never would have anticipated if you aren't always ready to meet your next opportunity.
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