Networking is a delicate art. While it’s certainly evolved in the past decade, there are still certain situations (and certain industries) where you must abide by a particular set of strict, unspoken rules. Mess one of these up, and you risk missing out on a critical opportunity to advance your career.
When speaking to someone more senior—and business networking usually involves an “ask” for help from senior people—you need to convey respect and recognition of their status. Remember: People will go out of their way for you if they like you and feel inspired by you. But turn them off, and they’ll tune out.
With that in mind, consider skipping any of the following casual or unprofessional expressions:
1. “Hey, I’m ______”
Introducing yourself casually is fine in most situations. But this language can come across as too casual if you’re introducing yourself to someone older or more senior who might be a good lead for a job.
Saying “Hello” is a better bet. And giving both your first and last names is more professional. You don’t want that other person walking away and thinking, “I met someone named Paul, but I never got his last name.”
2. “I’m VP of sales for company X”
When networking at a business event it’s tempting to rush in with your title. After all, you want your new contact to know you’re a professional with some status. But it will sound arrogant to add this so quickly.
I recently met a young woman at a networking event, and within the first 15 seconds she let me know that she worked for a big Silicon Valley firm and had a good job in IT. She never bothered to ask my name, work situation, or title. I was not interested in speaking to her again because the encounter was one way.
Rather than hurling your job title at a new face, wait until the other person asks for that information. If you ask them about themselves, they will likely raise the same questions about you. It means a lot more when they ask you what you do than when you shout it out to them.
3. “That’s cool”
Once you get into conversation with an executive, your words will define the kind of relationship you want to have with that person. If you’re too casual, you’ll sound like you don’t necessarily aspire to a professional connection.
Suppose you’re in conversation with a vice president who works in a firm you’d like to do business with. You ask, “Who do you hire for your sales training?” When you find out, you might be tempted to say something like “Hey, I know them,” or “Cool.”
Instead, opt for a more polished expression, such as “Yes, I’m familiar with that firm, and I believe we can offer something more.” This positioning will get you further in pursuing a possible business contact.
4. “Can I impose on you to make a call?”
Once you’ve gotten a good conversation going, you may be ready to pitch the other person for a lead. But the “ask” has to be handled with delicacy.
The phrase “can I impose on you” sounds like you haven’t done the groundwork for the “ask.” So go through the steps that will make you feel you are not imposing. This can include a lot of listening and selling yourself. Once you’re convinced you are not imposing, you can confidently say, “I’d love it if you could make a call on my behalf.” Now you’re off and running!
5. “Let me know how it goes”
If someone has been kind enough to speak to someone else on your behalf, be sure you do the follow-up—don’t expect them to get back to you.
Ask your new contact when you should follow up with them. You might also inquire “What is the best way to reach you?” They may give you their business card or phone number or say “Text me at this number.” The point is that you want to close on this networking opportunity, and that means the next step should be very clear.
Thank-yous are also in order. Close the conversation by thanking this individual. And say thanks again when you receive the new contact’s name. After you meet with this new referral, send a note saying how the conversation went. A gracious touch is to send a handwritten note.