The following article is part of "The Path," a series presented byJPMorgan Chasethat helps young people in their first jobs.
Step away from the shrimp at parties, and be in the moment.
For Ona Ekhomu, networking comes relatively easy. In fact, Ekhomu says networking helped him quickly rise through several companies, and land his current job as director of financial consulting at World Financial Group. "When it comes to the workplace," he says, "it's all about learning how to be people-conscious. It keeps on opening new doors."
You can do it, too.
Here are five essential rules for ensuring your network will take you places you want to be:
1. Create an elevator pitch
Before you even think about networking, it's vital to create an "elevator pitch," a 30-second introduction of yourself and what you do. That way, you can succinctly let recruiters and potential hiring managers you want to work for know your exact value.
Sounds easy, right?
Tim Wackel, a sales trainer, says that most people going into networking situations are unprepared to deliver their elevator pitch. When some people are on the spot, he says, they "blather out some nonsense" in a lengthy script about work. To avoid this pitfall, Wackel suggests rehearing a concise, general overview.
Ultimately, when you deliver an elevator pitch, give the other person a headline. "We're looking for an invitation to continue the conversation," Wackel says. And the goal should be for the other person to say, "'Hey, I'm interested, tell me a little bit more.'"
2. Use relevant resources to improve your networking skills
Networking may come naturally to some people, but if you need to give yourself a crash course, take advantage of resources around you.
Ekhomu bought some books on how to master networking, and joined organizations like Toastmasters, which help people get comfortable speaking publicly. "No one ever finishes school as a ready-made product," he says. "Some people think, 'Oh I'm done, I don't have to do anything to advance myself.' Trust me, everybody can learn something new."
Before you go to an event, whether a conference, a happy hour, or a professional dinner, do your homework. Scan the conference agenda to see who will be on key panels. Then, make a short list of people you want to meet. Do a little research on them, and think about questions you'll want to ask so the conversations are informed and meaningful.
3. Open your heart
Although Ekhomu has had great luck making connections in his career, he's also faced certain obstacles as a person of color. You can overcome these challenges with diligent work. "Did I run into racism and bigotry? Of course," he says. "Some people can be less tolerant, and you just have to shy away from them. The key is just being open from the get-go and learning to blend in and connect. You'll find that a lot of people are willing to work with you."
From there, it's all about relationship-building to enhance your network.
"It doesn't matter if people are above you or at the same level or beneath you, it's just about making new connections and finding things that rhyme together like similar interests," Ekhomu says. "You build a relationship, people know people, and they can help you advance."
4. Keep it professional on social media
If you want people to take you seriously in the business world, spend some time cleaning your social media accounts. Online profiles are now one of the first things potential employers look at to get a view of how you carry yourself. So keep it authentic, but professional.
People make snap judgments in the first five to seven seconds of meeting someone or seeing their online presence.
5. Step away from the snacks
Let's be honest—one of the best things about networking events is the free food and drinks. But there's a very fine line you don't want to cross here, and it's directly related to those freebies. Wackel often sees people at these events eating and drinking way too much. Food and drink may be a way to relieve the pressure of meeting strangers, but they may also be a barrier to creating new relationships.
"It's hard to network with somebody who keeps shoveling food into their mouth," Wackel says.
Be in the moment. It will get you places you may never have imagined.
"Don't blow those opportunities, because you never know," Wackel says. "You may be one introduction away from the job of your dreams."
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Jennifer Billock is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and Mental Floss.