Engage in authentic networking

When building your professional network, there is a plethora of tools, websites and apps available for creating the ‘nuts and bolts’ of your professional persona, as well as your online (and offline) presence. That said, the actual human being behind the persona is what other people are really interested in. The authenticity of your network and your networking is reflected in who you are and how you interact with others.

It’s all about relationships

Whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or at a networking lunch, authentic interaction with others is the key to building a truly dynamic professional network.

Networking isn’t just about handing out your business card to as many people as possible while collecting the contact information of others in whom you may or may not be interested. It’s about real connection.

Business cards are indeed valuable ‘real estate’ when it comes to networking, but the truly authentic and savvy networker uses honest communication, eye contact, excellent follow-up and true interest in others to spark symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships with like-minded professionals.

If you meet someone at a networking event or professional luncheon, there are several important ways to make sure that the other person remembers you. First, show interest in the other person and what they do. Ask questions, but not like you’re an interrogator or member of the press.

Show true interest and try not to simply turn the conversation back to yourself. People remember kindness, honesty and authenticity.

Next, when you talk about yourself, do so in a way that conveys who you really are, not just what you do. Also, stories are almost always more interesting than facts, so telling a story that illustrates who you are and what you do will certainly make it more likely that you’re remembered.

Remember, networking is about relationships. The person you’re talking with at a meeting may not be able to help you find a job now, but if you build authentic trust and open communication with that person, you never know how that relationship may be mutually beneficial in the future.

Follow up is key

If you collect someone’s contact details, make a note about where you met that individual in order to jog your memory later on. Next, send an email within a few days to let him or her know you enjoyed meeting up and, if you feel moved to do so, arrange a meeting in the future.

And if you have something to offer that person - like a lead, referral or introduction to someone who may be of service to them in some way - this is a good time to begin that process.

Clearly, you can’t follow up with everyone you meet, so follow up with those with whom you feel some spark of mutual interest, conviviality or mutuality, and then see how the relationship develops (if the person responds to your overtures, that is).

Most people are not good at follow up, so some people may be put off by your seemingly forward nature. But never mind that. Follow up with authentic enthusiasm anyway since you never know what good may come of your actions.

Social media and authenticity

On social media, many users spend most of their time promoting themselves. In reality, social media is also about mutuality and relationships, although so many users seem blind to this notion. Use social media in the same way you might ‘work the room' at a networking event. It isn’t just about self-promotion.

It’s about meeting like-minded individuals and organisations, offering them value (in terms of content or sharing), and interacting in ways that produce a sense of mutual regard and benefit.

I have personally met many wonderful people on social media, some of whom I’ve eventually met in person and even gone on to do business with; including one with whom I actually formed a successful company.

Social media is like a giant cocktail party where you can’t meet everyone but you can connect authentically with a chosen few. Choose wisely, interact gracefully, and there is no end to the magic therein.

Never stop building

No matter at what point you may find yourself in your career, there is truly no end to building your network. Even when you’re in retirement, a network is essential, be it for volunteerism, travel, or perhaps for that day when you find yourself needing to re-enter the workforce for the short or long-term.

In the course of your professional life, a robust and healthy network built from authentic connection is one of the keys to your success, both personally and professionally.

Spend your time and energy wisely, and reach out with honesty, authenticity and true purpose. If you’re authentic, there’s no way to lose, and there is so very much to gain.

About the author

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC has been a nurse since 1996. He is the well-known blogger behind the award-winning nursing blog, Digital Doorway, and is the founder of Nurse Keith Coaching and NurseKeith.com. Keith is an editorial contributor for Working Nurse Magazine, LPNtoBSNonline.org and DiabeticLifestyle.com, and has been a featured author in several non-fiction nursing books by Kaplan Publishing. Keith is the co-host and co-founder of RN.FM Radio, the newest Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession.