This term at the Orlando Campus we were excited to add a new Supplemental Skill course for the TOEFL Prep program- Business English. This new course has allowed our students, both prospective and current professionals in a variety of career fields, to explore essential topics that aid not just in English language development, but also in becoming better equipped professionals, armed with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the current world.
The first unit in our book, Market Leader Advanced 3rd Edition, deals with the importance of first impressions in several facets of modern business life. However, the one that got the students the most interested was the importance of networking. For those not familiar with the term, networking is the act of meeting and making contact with other professionals in your career and/or other areas of interest. For many of our young college and young professionals in the class, this was a facet of professionalism they knew was important but were not sure how to develop. Fortunately, we had many experienced professionals in the class, from entrepreneurs to teachers and lawyers, who are skilled and well-practiced in the art of networking. The discussion culminated in a networking activity where students networked with each other in class.
The reason I choose to write about networking as my first entry on this blog is that not only is it an important part of developing in your career field, but it can also provide you with the opportunity to hone your English skills in new and exciting ways. You are never too old or too young to start, and once you know the basics and find opportunities to practice networking, you will discover that it can also be rewarding and fun. Below are 5 tips we brainstormed as a class that all networking professionals, beginner or experienced, need to remember:
1.) Focus on your interests and your passions, less on business: One of the most common misconceptions that beginning networkers make is focusing more on seeking out business opportunities as opposed to getting to know the professionals they are trying to network with. This can often lead people to becoming frustrated as it gives off the impression that you are only there because you want something. Most experienced networkers, especially leaders or respected executives within a field, can see this a mile away and are generally turned off by it. Also, keep in mind that most networkers are also looking for more than just leads or partners. They are also looking for genuine relationships to help them with both their professional and personal goals.
Instead, seek out those who share similar interests or passions. If you are unsure, make a list of topics you know a lot about, as well as a list of things you want to know more about. For example, one of my students who is a professional networker from Brazil noted that at a recent real estate seminar she spent most of her time getting to know the people at the event by asking them about their future goals or their current passions. This led to her not just establishing solid business contacts, but friends as well.
2.) Listen more, brag less: It can be very easy to brag about one’s own achievements in an effort to impress other professionals in your field. However, more often than not, many of us tend to do so excessively. This will make it seem like you are not interested in learning about the people around you. If you find that people are disinterested in what you are saying, try asking them more about their lives. Make sure to give them proper attention and be prepared to ask follow up questions to keep the conversation going. Let them ask questions about you and that will give you the opportunity to impress. Just remember, be humble. Nobody likes a braggart.
3.) Have something to give: Networking is not just about forming genuine relationships. It is also about having the opportunity to learn from others and vice versa. For many of my younger students, this is often an issue as many have yet to figure out what they are good at and more importantly, how they can help others. Even older professionals can get tripped up with doubt on what they can do to help.
Here’s the thing. Everyone is good at something or knows something that perhaps other people don’t know. If not, then you might have a different perspective on the topic that can help refine another person’s knowledge or skills. Furthermore, you don’t necessarily need to be the best at something to have something to contribute. You just have to be willing to help.
I suggested to my younger students to take stock of their current skills during an upcoming speech project. One of these students was knowledgeable and skilled in baseball, as well as how to condition themselves to be more athletic. Some of my other students expressed a desire to know more. He went from not knowing how to contribute to knowing exactly what he could share with others.
4.) Stay in contact: It can be easy to meet all these new people on Monday and forget about them by the weekend. Strong relationships in all facets of life require time, commitment, and above all else, patience. Staying connected and up-to-date with your network is essential. It is one of the reasons why Facebook and Twitter continue to thrive. I have known students who want to delete their Facebook but won’t because it would mean giving up years of hard work meeting and maintaining solid business relationships.
Fortunately, for those who want to separate their business life from their private life, there are other options. One of the best is LinkedIn and I would suggest signing up as soon as possible. It is essentially Facebook, but for business. Other sites like Shaper and Bumble (which started out as a dating website before becoming more focused on friends and professional networking) are also great choices. Regardless, make sure you stay aware of what you post on your social network. Everyone can see what you put online, and you should always be focused on presenting the best version of yourself.
5.) Be Authentic: In other words, be yourself. There is a saying that ‘most people can see a faker from a mile away.’ Unless you are an actor, you are not going to get very far by being anything but yourself. People will always know when something is too good to be true and are more on guard than ever about being deceived. This is for good reason. Not only is this unfair and downright dishonest to the people you are trying to network with, but it isn’t fair to you either. What good are your relationships if they are built on lies or insecurity?
Instead, learn to know yourself better. Ask yourself these questions. What are your moral beliefs? What do you want to accomplish? What are your passions in life? What kind of people do you want in your professional and personal life? If you can answer these questions honestly, you will find that your relationships are richer and stronger as a result.
While there is certainly always more to learn about how to make and maintain a strong network of professional contacts, these are a few good ideas to get you thinking. Even if you are new to learning English, your goal should be to one day have enough English skills to use them as an advantage in your career, and I can think of no better place to start than strong networking skills.