There is arguably no more important skill for government career growth than networking. And doing it well can be the difference between landing a promotion or big project and being stuck in place. Here are 20 networking tips to get you started:
- Practice: Especially if you are shy, or have trouble speaking about yourself, practice networking with a group of friends or close colleagues. Better yet, find someone in your office who you know and respect, and ask them for their personal networking tips. Consider asking them to come to a networking event with you and watch how they work, and have them evaluate your skills as well.
- Stay visible: You can’t go to one networking event, or join one online professional group, and think that you’ve done enough. It’s important to show up at events your network frequents. But don’t make your intentions too obvious—choose events that you would likely already attend on your own so that you will feel more comfortable.
- Build trust: Present yourself in an honest, straightforward manner at networking events. Some of your contacts will want to get something out of the relationship for themselves. And if you are stretching the truth, you won’t be able to deliver on your promises.
- Form partnerships: Networking relationships don’t have to be just give and take. Find places where you can work together toward your own goals or your agency’s goals.
- Maintain your relationships: Once you have someone’s contact information, touch base to say that it was nice to meet them, you look forward to seeing them again, etc. Check in from time to time with a friendly note or information on an article, book, upcoming speech you think might interest that person. If you haven’t seen or heard from someone in awhile, don’t be afraid to get back in touch.
- Keep a diverse group of contacts: You’ll want a strong base of contacts in your area of expertise or interest, but don’t forget to branch out. You never know what you’ll learn or whom you’ll meet.
- Give as much as you take, but give first: Never help your contacts only with the aim of reciprocity. The people who do the best at networking are seen as selfless. When the time comes for you to ask a favor, don’t apologize for it—everyone knows the purpose of networking, and won’t be caught off guard.
- Connect on a personal level: Networking typically has a professional goal in mind, but you can build stronger connections with those whom you share personal interests. Sprinkle them into your conversations naturally.
- Evaluate and prioritize each contact: Chose your most important 10 to 20 contacts and keep in regular contact. But don’t forget to touch base intermittently with your “second tier” group.
- Don’t be shy: If you’re an introvert, start small and be prepared. Develop a mental list of talking points, and then begin by going to networking events with people you already know. Not only will you have a friend, that person can likely introduce you to others who share your interests. When you speak with new people ask about them, actively listen to what they say, and look for places where you can be of service. And never forget to exchange contact information.
- Don’t ask for something right away: Before you can ask for something, you need to cultivate the relationship, and you’ll likely need to do something for your contact first.
- Target wisely: Networking is about purposeful relationship building. There is probably someone that you want to meet who could help you work toward your goals. Find a way to connect with and be useful to this person.
- Build toward something: Don’t simply target the senior-level people in the positions you desire. Look around at your peers—you never know where a person might be in 10 or 15 years, so it is worthwhile now to make, and maintain, a connection.
- Vary your methods: Network online (consider GovLoop or LinkedIn) and network in person.
- Start sooner than necessary: Don’t start networking when you need a new job or want a promotion. Start on Day 1 of your government career (or today!). If you have a solid base of contacts, finding that next opportunity won’t be so difficult.
- Don’t be dismissive: No contact is unimportant. You never know whom someone else knows, what they might be able to help you with, or who they might become.
- Be memorable: Think about what makes you stand out, and present that to those you meet.
- Follow through: If you’ve promised to help your new contact, do it. And don’t drag your feet. You never know how important the favor is to the other person, and someday you might be in a similar situation.
- Develop your personal brand: If you had 15 seconds to describe yourself to someone, what would you say? Consider this your “brand.” Before you network, come up with those key details about yourself that you think will be valuable for other people to know—what do you do? What are you passionate about? Where are you going? Keep it short, honest, and interesting to keep your audience engaged.
- Remember details: It’s easier to open a conversation with someone you’ve already met asking something like “how is Sally doing in soccer?” than “we’ve met before, haven’t we?” And as much as people like talking about themselves, you stand to make yourself look foolish if you ask the same questions every time you see the same person. As you network, keep a running log of facts about each person—both personal and professional. These are great conversation starters, and they help to show the other person that you are interested and invested in the relationship.
What are your networking tips? Leave them in the comments below!
I like this one – Don’t ask for something right away
Maybe it’s my print set-up but I got extra computer language text superimposed on my right-click print of the 20 networking tips. I do like the improved readability and layout of GovLoop. Thanx to all who worked at it. Sincerely, Steve
Thanks, Steve – we’re looking into that issue. Thanks for the heads up!
This is so helpful! Especially the idea of thinking how you can help someone instead of constantly worrying about how they can help you. Give first before you take.