“Networking” is a buzzword you hear from the very second you begin thinking about a career. So, is networking exploiting friends and strangers alike to get ahead? Definitely not. Networking is about sharing ideas.
As an introvert, networking was the thing I dreaded the most. I attended networking events out of obligation and ended up just walking in circles. I fully expected someone to strike up a riveting conversation while I simultaneously avoided eye contact at all costs.
If approaching random people in a crowded room isn’t your thing, it’s okay to skip out on such events. Instead of casting your net wide, play to your strengths with targeted, meaningful, one-on-one interactions.
*Scroll to the bottom for a quick-reference infographic!
The Benefits of Lunch
Is there better bait than food? Lunch is a great opportunity to break the ice with another professional because chances are he/she also eats lunch in the middle of the day. Imagine that! In all seriousness, everyone’s busy. Meeting for lunch takes little extra time out of both of your days.
You might feel stressed when meeting up with someone you barely know for a professional purpose. A lunch meetup can ease your nerves because it gives your subconscious something to do. You’ll feel more in your element because you’re familiar with the process of ordering a drink, skimming the menu, etc.
While you eat, there’s less pressure to make eye contact, fill silences, or figure out what to do with your hands. Interruptions from the server make natural opportunities to pivot the conversation. At the very least, restaurants make for easy small talk. “Have you been here before?” “What are you going to order?” “What’s your go-to lunch spot?”
The 5 Stages
Here’s the breakdown of how to pull off a successful networking lunch:
Select a professional: Although lunch meetings are convenient, they still take planning, so be deliberate about who you reach out to. You can search LinkedIn or ask those close to you for recommendations. Do your research on his/her career. You must understand what’s important to this person to present a case as to how a relationship would be mutually beneficial.
Reach out with a simple message: Whether it’s an email or LinkedIn message, keep it short. Mention your relevance (shared friend, school, company, industry, etc.) and state your interest in meeting up. Don’t suggest a time, date, or location until they express interest. Here’s an example:
Hi Robert,I came across an article you shared on LinkedIn about the recent ratings of USF’s business programs. As a fellow USF business alumni, I’m interested to hear about how you’ve built upon your undergraduate education throughout your career so far.Coincedently, we’re both also currently working in the auto industry. Would you be interested in meeting for lunch to discuss the movement towards autonomous driving?I look forward to hearing back,Nancy Smith
If they don’t answer after a week or so, you may follow up to see if they’ve had a chance to read your message. However, don’t bother them with more than two messages if they haven’t replied.
Be the first giver: How can you show that you are willing to build a two-way relationship? A professional might appreciate you recommending their services to a colleague, commenting on one of their articles, or sharing their blog on social media. They’ll be more inclined to meet with you if you’ve already done them a small favor. (More favor ideas here)
Accommodate the schedule and location needs of the guest: Once your connection is engaged, ask him/her when and where would be most convenient to meet. You may make suggestions, but you should carry as much of the traveling and rescheduling burden as possible.
Exchange cell phone numbers: Don’t forget to get contact information so that you can reach each other when you’re away from your desks.
Research relevant topics: Use your gifted time wisely by avoiding obvious questions. You should already know what they do for work and other basic fundamentals. Understand what your objective of the meeting is and exactly what gaps in knowledge you want to fill.
Know who to look for: A confident greeting helps others feel important and starts the relationship out on the right foot. Have a picture of your lunch date handy so you don’t have that awkward stare down when you meet at the entrance.
Dress appropriately: If you work in a more casual office, remember to dress up a little when you get dressed in the morning.
Confirm beforehand: The morning of the lunch, send a quick message saying something along the lines of, “I look forward to our lunch today at the Chilis on 9th St. at noon.” This acts as a reminder and a friendly gesture.
Show up on time: Plan ahead for traffic and wait-time to get a table. If your guest is more than 15 minutes late, so ahead and sit down, ask for waters, and order an appetizer.
Get acquianted: The last thing this lunch should be is boring. If nothing else comes from your meeting, at least make sure it’s an enjoyable hour. Talk about your commonalities and interests. Don’t jump into a pitch, talk all about yourself, or ask them for favors (FYI, you’re currently receiving a favor in the form of their time. It’s your turn to give next).
Engage in discussion: Ask about their experiences and advice, then offer your input. If conversationing isn’t your strong point, then smile, be attentive, affirm their ideas, and ask probing questions.
Gracefully end the meal: You can segway into a conclusion by mentioning something you have to get back to work on or acknowledging and thanking him/her for his/her sacrifice of time. Try to set a clear takeaway that sets the expectation that you will keep in contact. It can sound something like these examples:
I’ll be sure to send you that article I was telling you about.I look forward to hearing about how you like that book.
You pay: Don’t fight over the bill, but you should make it clear that you intend to pay because they took the time to meet you.
Send a follow-up: Follow up on the same day with a thank you and comment on something you talked about. Remember, it’s your turn to give a favor so don’t ask for anything. If all went well, the correspondence will continue and your new contact will offer to help.
The whole lunch-networking process sounds more complicated than it is. You may even have more questions than you started with. But don’t stress. Networking success comes with persistence.
Not every contact will result in a meeting and not every meeting will result in a connection. However, if you have the desire to learn and develop mutually beneficial relationships, you are guaranteed to get better over time and establish your own career support community.