by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO
It is well-known that networking is vital to a successful job search and a thriving career. LinkedIn has made it easy to connect with a large number of people, but in-person interactions should not be neglected and should be conducted with thought and care. Those who have met you in person and who really know you and have worked with you in some way are going to be the most beneficial to you. These are the people who will refer, recommend, or even hire you. These first words and conversations with other professionals can make or break your opportunity for further contact.
You will be remembered by the manner in which you introduce yourself, so choose those first words deliberately. Sometimes just your name, title, and workplace will suffice. And sometimes just your name and a general descriptive title (even just “librarian”) is appropriate, depending on the person or audience you are introducing yourself to.
In some cases, a few words describing what you do will be needed. If, for example, your title doesn’t make your job responsibilities clear or if there is a certain skill you want to be sure the person you are talking to knows about you, be sure to mention that too. If you are a student, give the name of the school and your degree-in-progress, with the possible addition of the kind of information work you hope to do following graduation.
It is best not to introduce yourself by saying you are unemployed or job hunting. I have heard many info pros begin their introduction with something like, “I was laid off two years ago...” We all have setbacks in our careers. By introducing yourself with a past setback you are telling other people that this one-time event, which may have occurred some time ago, has defined you in a permanent way. This encourages others to think of you as unemployed and that is not likely to lead to new opportunities. I would also avoid the phrase “in transition” as it has come to mean “long-term unemployed”.
Lead with your strengths; introduce yourself in the present tense, (“I am…” rather than “I was…”) and have some project or part-time job or volunteering or internship or blog or research or service in a professional organization that you can talk about later in the conversation. Keep your introduction to one or two sentences. After that, *listen* to the other person’s self-introduction and ask a follow-up question or two, to get things started.
Your Elevator Speech
The elevator speech includes a bit more information and detail but should not be extensive or a recounting of your resume. It should be one or two minutes maximum. Many information professionals have multiple skill sets, and your elevator speech should focus on one of them, as appropriate to the situation. Before an event, give a little thought to how it would be best for you to present yourself to this particular “audience” and focus on the things you have to offer related to that. Know what you want to say but don’t memorize the speech; you want it to sound natural.
What you want to convey, in just a few sentences, is what you do and are good at, that sets you apart from other information professionals. Include something you are interested in or perhaps a few words about a current project. If you are at an event you may want to include why you are there: representing your employer, seeking knowledge of a certain topic, or some other goal. Then turn the focus back to the other person or people you are speaking with.
Your Origin Story
This will be a little longer than the elevator speech, but still should not be very lengthy. An original story is a brief (you may notice that brevity is a recurring theme here!) answer to the question “how did you come to be doing what you are now doing?” You want it to be part of a conversation, not a monologue. As with the intro and elevator speech, tailor it to the audience and allow the other person to ask for more details. Your origin story is especially useful and important in a job interview; you can use it to answer an opening interview question/request such as “tell me about yourself” or “what made you decide to apply for this job?”
Don’t say anything negative about anyone or anything; you don’t want your first impression to be as a complainer or a malcontent. Be positive and enthusiastic about your work and career, and confident and optimistic about the present and future. That’s how you want to be remembered!
Additional Tips on Meeting Someone for the First Time
In general it is better to listen more than you speak, and ask open ended questions of others to get them talking about themselves. If you are at all uncomfortable with networking, focusing on the other person can put you more at ease. It demonstrates interest in and respect for the other person, and while he or she is speaking you may think of some way that you can offer to help or collaborate.
Remember that many people enjoy talking about themselves. If you are an engaged listener with genuine interest, others may not remember all the specifics of what you said and what they said in the conversation, but they will remember that they enjoyed the conversation.
When you receive someone else’s business card, at the first opportunity (not in front of the person, though), write a few words on the back of it of what you want to remember about that person. This can be helpful when following up, especially at events where you meet a number of people.
These first interactions and conversations with new people are about connecting and possibly collaborating, and making a good first impression. With a little preparation and attention to the stories and needs of others, first meetings and face-to-face networking can be enjoyable and beneficial to both parties.