At this point, everyone knows the importance of networking. After all, it’s through shaking hands and meeting people that many of us find our jobs, when you’re looking for work, attending professional events and networking nights can be as important as having a good resume and applying for the right gigs. That said, networking can be uncomfortable, as you’re essentially in forced social situations. There’s a lot of pressure to look your best, sound smart, and make a good impression, and it’s no wonder many people hate the process.

Luckily, networking doesn’t have to be a total drag. In a helpful Black Enterprise piece titled “5 Master Networking Tips,” consultant and WordSmithRapport founder Karima Mariama-Arthur outlines some great tips for getting the most out of your next professional night. Read on to see her expert advice.

1. Do Your Research — Before showing up for a networking event, find out who’s going to be there, what you might have in common, and what topics you shouldn’t bring up. “Be prepared to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and can articulate the lay of the land,” Mariama-Arthur writes.

2. Bring Your Best Stuff — It’s not enough to research the reps from the companies you’ll be speaking to. You’ve got “bring your A-game,” as Mariama-Arthur writes, and that means selling yourself in a clear, concise, compelling way. According to Brandi Mitchell, author of “Look the Part to Get the Role,” you’re “telling a story through your image,” so make sure it’s a good one.

3. Act Naturally — While you want to put your best foot forward and really sell yourself, don’t exaggerate or pretend to be something you’re not. Seasoned business pros can spot phonies a mile away, and as Mariama-Arthur points out, if you’re already doing a good job of showing your personality and intelligence, there’s no need to put on airs.

4. Build Bridges — The keyword here, Mariama-Arthur says, is rapport. You’ve got to engage these business contacts in meaningful conversation, and that means being an attentive, interested listener who asks lots of questions. Don’t dominate the conversation with talk about yourself. Mariama-Arthur advises developing “a voracious appetite for curiosity about others.”

5. Follow Up — Meeting people at networking nights means nothing if you can’t contact them later and possibly open some doors to job opportunities. Be sure to swap business cards and email within 24 hours, and when you send ’em that note, mention specific things about your conversation, so that they’ll be more likely to remember you. If possible, schedule a follow-up coffee or lunch date.

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