5 Networking Tips for Science of Food Professionals

By Kate Dockins

Originally published by IFT: http://blog.ift.org/five-networking-tips-for-science-of-food-professionals

 

Ask any successful science of food professional and they will tell you networking has been a key part of advancing their career—with industry events and conferences providing some of the best opportunities to make lifelong connections. At IFT’s annual event and Food Expo, for instance, more than 20,000 people from across the science of food world will gather to learn, collaborate, and connect, and most of those attendees are going to be ready and eager to network—the optimal opportunity to build strategic connections.

Of course, not everyone is a naturally skilled networker, and even those of us who are can get a bit rusty between events, so here are five networking tips to help get you ready for IFT18 or any other networking event in your future:

 

1) Get there early: We’ve all heard about being “fashionably late” to parties, but when it comes to networking, you’re probably better served by arriving a few minutes early. Not only will you have a few moments to collect yourself and get a lay of the land, but you’ll also be able to start one-on-one conversations more easily with fellow early arrivers (instead of having to fight your way through large groups once the rest of the crowd filters in.)

 

2) Be yourself: Sure, it can be awkward introducing yourself to someone for the first time, and for many of us that mere thought is uncomfortable. But remember: everyone else is here for the same reasons you are, and who knows? Maybe they’ve been looking to meet and talk with someone just like you, so don’t lie about your work history or otherwise overcompensate. You don’t even have to talk about work right away—in fact, it’s often better to start out just by getting to know them. Talk about their family, their passions, their favorite foods...really anything other than their professional lives. Just relax, be yourself, and stay open to any opportunities that may come your way. That being said, it definitely can’t hurt to…

 

3) Set goals: What sort of connections do you hope to make? How many people are you (realistically) hoping to talk to? What sort of contacts would you like to add to your network? It’s important to consider all these questions before you head to a networking event. Take some time before the event to research which of your existing contacts will be going there as well, as well as any people you’d like to try to connect with for the first time, and consider how you might get a conversation started with any new connections. Having a plan will put you in the right mindset for asking appropriate questions. Speaking of which…

 

4) Ask questions: As interesting as you are—and believe us, you’re very interesting!—most people at your networking event will be all too thrilled to talk about themselves, so be sure to ask lots of questions. Not only will you come across as a good listener (a highly valuable and underrated skill), you’re also likely learn a few things about how they got to where they are today. And remember: the more specific your questions, the better the quality answers you’re likely to receive. Plus, the more you find out about your new contact, the easier it will be to initiate any follow-up interactions, which leads us to…

 

5) Follow up: Don’t let old, outdated dating stereotypes inform how you connect with your new networking contacts. Be sure to reach out to your new professional connection within 48 hours of your first meeting. Send them an email, add them on LinkedIn, or better yet, do both. Show them that you’re interested in helping them, not just that you’re interested in them helping you. And feel free to use any of the interesting things you learned about them during your in-person conversation as a way of kicking of your communication online—say, by sharing an article about something new in their field, or asking them more about a topic they’re interested in. It will make the conversation seem more natural and can serve as a nice digital icebreaker before asking them to chat about their career.