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Next Wave
A Knack for Networking

Making connections with others in the industry is an important part of a successful career.
  • Carly Burnham
  • May 2019
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Carly Burnham

For many, networking can be off-putting, even terrifying.

Carly Burnham

Industry professionals always say “insurance is a relationship business.” When recalling favorite stories from a long career their musings often include details of the work that's been done with teammates or across departments to serve an agent or a customer. The team members who are the most valuable are often not the individuals who know the most but the ones who know the best person to contact. And the people with the most interesting career paths are often the ones who have learned about opportunities that wouldn't have been on their radar if they were simply reading job boards. Growing a career that allows you to create these kinds of stories requires networking. And, for many, networking can be off-putting, even terrifying.

As I searched for the next steps in my career, I heard stories about the importance of being connected within the insurance industry. I knew I had to start somewhere, even though I found it intimidating. Networking events seemed like the last place I would want to go after a day on the phones at the call center. But I was living in a new city and working at a new company, so I figured events would be the best way to meet others in the industry.

I researched how to network as a young professional and found a number of tips. The four that have stuck with me to this day are:

Go to the event with a more extroverted friend. Attending with someone who would more naturally introduce herself to others is a great way to make sure that you aren't hugging the wall to avoid making contact with new people. This tip is even more helpful if you ask your friend ahead of time if they can introduce you to people at the event.

Read the news. As any of my close friends can tell you, I find small talk painful, and it was even worse when I was younger. But, when you're meeting someone new, where else can you start? I had been taught to use the FORD (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams) acronym in a sales training session. But it often felt stilted or forced because back then, most of my spare time revolved around academics outside of the office, so I started reading the news and watching for local events that could spur conversation.

Set a goal for each event. A goal could be either the number of people that I wanted to meet, getting an introduction to a person in a particular role or the opportunity to volunteer in some way. I often went with the latter. I found that if I could help out at the event in some way, I'd naturally meet people and be occupied enough to make the small talk easier. Any task would do—I could help keep the table stocked or make sure that everyone had signed in. But if I was setting a goal for the number of people I would meet at the event, I would keep it small. I always wanted to be certain I was making quality connections. I wanted to remember the people I met when I ran into them in the future.

Send thank-you notes. At the time, I was committed to sending handwritten thank-you cards to anyone who gave me their business card at an event. I've since relaxed this practice and now I send an email. But I appreciate handwritten mail and believe others do too, so I try to send out a card now and then. The note is a great way to reinforce the connection and set up further conversation, and it ensures that the new connection remembers you.

These four tactics gave me comfort and allowed me to relax at those early events. I've moved to a number of states and changed jobs many times since developing these strategies, and they still serve me well when I'm attending a new event. Sometimes, I'll even bypass the first step and go alone!

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at and can be reached at

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