There is a lot more to networking than simply finding a job.
The contacts you make as a student or new graduate can have a positive impact on your career prospects down the road. But, as we all know, networking can be intimidating. We in the hospitality industry are lucky; opportunities to meet new people and practice our best rapport-building skills present themselves every day.
Here are a few creative ways to break the ice when networking!
Take Your School Research Offline
Need to conduct some research for an upcoming school project? You could turn to Google, or you could use the opportunity to develop stronger ties to an industry leader you admire.
Striking up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before can feel awkward, especially if you’re inexperienced at networking. Why not approach the same situation from a different angle? For example, if you’re still in school, conducting interviews for research projects can also be a great opportunity to connect with industry professionals.
For example, if you’re studying pricing models, you could approach a Sales Manager from a hotel brand you admire to inquire about hotel room rate strategies. Or if you want to learn more about the wine industry, you could approach a Sommelier who works at a popular restaurant. When you’re a busy student, you need to maximize your efforts; why not network and study at the same time? Besides, this approach will allow you to incorporate real world practical research into your theoretical area of study.
No longer a student? Starting a blog or freelancing for a local industry publication is a great opportunity to connect with the people you admire. Reach out to someone in the hospitality industry and inquire whether you may interview them for an upcoming article or post you would like to write. Plenty of news publications take submissions online from new contributors, or you could self-publish the piece on LinkedIn.
Give (Positive) Feedback
Another way to incorporate networking into your everyday life is to rethink your dining experience. In the hospitality industry, something as simple as saying ‘thanks’ at the end of a meal could be considered networking!
The next time you enjoy a meal at a restaurant, ask for the General Manager’s business card after settling up your bill. The next day, send a short and courteous email expressing your gratitude for the meal and the service you received at their establishment.
By doing this, you’re setting yourself up for success in two key ways: first, believe it or not, positive feedback can be hard to come by in this industry! You’ll stand out by virtue of the fact that few guests take the time out of their day to express appreciation for a wonderful meal and great service. Second, you’re adding another contact to your growing network – you now have the direct contact information for a restaurant General Manager!
Attend a Lecture, Conference, or Seminar
Hospitality events are perfect for meeting industry leaders, and there are plenty of them happening all throughout the year! The purpose of such events might be to gain exposure to industry trends at the high level, but for you, the real point will be to meet new people and practice your networking skills.
An easy way to network at these events is to wait around after a lecture or panel discussion to personally introduce yourself to the speakers and say that you appreciated their talk. Or you might have a question you wanted to ask but didn’t feel comfortable doing so in front of the larger group. Whatever your reason for staying behind, make sure you don’t leave until you shake someone’s hand and introduce yourself.
It is also customary at such events to exchange business cards… a lot of them! If you don’t have business cards supplied to you through work or school, consider making your own and printing them at a print and copy centre in advance. That way you’ll have something to give if anyone asks!
Can’t afford the pricey tickets to an upcoming hospitality event? You can often volunteer to help run the event behind-the-scenes! Volunteers often set up the room in advance of a big lecture series, run the various booths or tables at a silent auction, sell raffle tickets to attendees, and other various tasks. Volunteering a few moments of your time may get you better access to the event than you might have been able to afford if you paid your own way; plus, you’re adding to your resume with new skills and experiences!
The key is to remember you’re there to get a job done and to make a good impression with your work ethic. Dress professionally, take care in setting up and tearing down your station (no, you can’t leave the event before it is over!). If the goal is to make a good impression on influential people, don’t discount the event organizers! Often, you can expect letters of recommendation in exchange for your services as a volunteer. These make great additions to your professional portfolio, so work hard to earn a genuine letter.
Finding ways to break the ice with industry leaders is easy when you know how to make the most of every situation. Remember, something as simple as saying “Thank you!” can be considered networking when you do it right. Good luck, and happy networking!