College graduates today are the most tech-savvy generation to ever enter the workforce. While knowledge of the latest and greatest devices can be a tremendous asset to landing a job, it’s also proving to be a hindrance. Graduates today too often use technology as a replacement for essential communication skills that are still coveted by employers.

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania conducts an annual survey to evaluate the status of professionalism in America. Most recent data from college and university career development offices noted a troubling trend. Respondents believe professionalism has decreased in the past five years. They attributed that drop to a loss of communication and interpersonal skills due to technology.

When so much of an average workday is spent in front of a computer screen, it’s easy to see how interpersonal skills can slide. But there are some rules of engagement for personal interaction that can help hone your skills and ensure a memorable exchange.

  1. Don’t go it alone

Many business reviews and articles have studied the importance of Networking skills and their pay offs. Networking has indeed become increasingly important in today’s working world. Networking is quite simply, relationship building. The reason why effective and authentic networking is necessary is that people don’t necessarily buy what one does or the company’s product or service offerings, people buy you first. If one fails to connect to their prospects on a personal level, chances are that it will be difficult for clients to take one’s business agenda to the next level.

No question, it can be intimidating to go solo in a professional setting. It’ll definitely be helpful if you bring along a ‘wingman’ or ‘wing-woman’ to accompany you for networking events and professional conferences.  So many people have obstacles around in-person networking. It is common to hear people saying, “I’m shy,” “I don’t know how to break into a conversation,” and “I don’t like to go to events alone.” And these are only a few of the obstacles. Yet, in-person networking is one of the most valuable actions you can take for yourself and your career. Why? Because, face to face is the strongest form of communication.

As such, It can be helpful to have a ‘wingman’ or wing-woman to support you and go with you to networking events and professional conferences. Starting conversations with new people is tough and having a wingman or wing-woman to support you when you try breaking the ice will significantly increase your chances of putting yourself on the map and at the time boosting your self-confidence

  1. Create a good impression

Networking is not an interview, and once outside the office, the strict rules of the dress code no longer apply. You’re left on your own to overdress or underdress

If you’re not sure what everyone will be wearing, ask around to ensure you won’t be the only one sans suit. When in doubt, business casual is your best bet. But the clothes call could run the gamut from a tuxedo to jeans. Networking outside the office, with more focus on culture and entertainment, is also the perfect opportunity to be more fashion forward and express yourself. This is not a free pass to don your sequined ‘80s jumpsuit, but wear your favorite colors; accessorize; and, most of all, smile.

In addition, research from the Beckham Institute suggests that shaking someone’s hand may increase the chances of having a positive interaction. Sandra Dolcos, the researcher behind the study, writes, “We found that it not only increases the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but it also diminishes the impact of a negative impression. Many of our social interactions may go wrong for a reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings.”

  1. Focus on how people feel 

When in a group conversation, a lot of seasoned professionals will maintain a conversation but as they’re talking, they’re also scanning the room for people who they also want to talk to. Whilst that might good practice, do watch out that you don’t give the person that you are talking to an impression that the subject or he or she is not interesting.

Brian Honigman suggests that, “Instead of focusing on how you feel at the event, focus on making your conversation partner feel good about themselves. You can do this through being a great listener, asking thoughtful questions and giving your undivided attention. After the event, people are more likely to remember those individuals who made them feel good about themselves.”

  1. Know you stuff and be prepared

If there are individuals you’re hoping to meet (and impress) at your next event, do some pre-meeting research online. Scope out these individuals’ LinkedIn profiles to learn the basics about them and look for common connections.

Also have a couple 30 seconds to one minute pitches prepared for different situations. Some things to consider including: who you are, what your business is/what you do, why should that person care about your business, what are you looking for (your perfect customer, power partner), your target market, a goal for this week, a success story of someone your product/service has helped, etc. Your pitch changes depending on the event, who you’re talking to, etc. You may even meet someone when you least expect it, so you should always be ready and prepared to articulate exactly what you do.

  1. Always do your homework afterwards

So you’ve just spent two hours talking about your business, listening to others. What do you do now? Some people will go add everyone on LinkedIn and call it a night, but increasing the number of connections you have won’t necessarily bring you business.

Remember who you talked with – Use the thin sharpie to jot down a few things about the people you meet on the back of their business card. Write whatever you think will jog your memory if you come across their card at a later point in time.

Send a follow-up email to the people you enjoyed talking to most and a LinkedIn invite. Maybe send them a video of something you were talking about that you thought they would enjoy. Thank them for their time, and if you want to get to know them better, suggest meeting one-on-one for coffee or tea.

If they discussed a potential lead or connection for you, don’t be nervous about bringing it up. After all, you are trying to help each other grow your network, so just don’t seem pushy and they’ll be happy to help. Be sure to be very appreciative, and try to offer them some sort of help in exchange for theirs if you can.

  1. Start now

Networking and personal interaction in a professional setting doesn’t come easily to most people. But the data shows it’s still expected of you. Failing to practice can hurt your chances at landing a job or moving up the corporate ladder.

It’s best to start early. People expect young professionals to come off a little awkward and unpolished, at first, because it’s a new experience. Most people will be empathetic to nerves when you first start out. However, if you’re 45-55 years old and still learning the ropes, people might question your interpersonal skills.

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