By this point you have probably heard (more times than you can count) that networking is a vital ingredient to job searching and advancing one’s career; it is consistently reported that 4 of 5 people land jobs through networking. Like fruit or vegetables, networking is one of those things that comes is different varieties, and people either like it or hate it. One of the more common varieties is to attend a networking event (or social gathering of professionals). Unless you’re an extrovert, this type of networking can provoke much anxiety. Here are a few tips I’ve put together to help you through this and help ensure you make the most of any networking event.
1. Do your prep work and know what type of people will be in attendance. Make note of who the event organizers are so you can thank them at the event. (note: they are usually among the most connected people at the event). Before you leave the event, be sure to thank them and express how much you enjoyed the event.
2. Dress the part! Make note of the venue and expected attire. If not noted, you should dress in business-casual attire (minimum) – preferably professional attire. First impressions are key…so it is up to you how you want to be perceived.
3. Think of about five conversation starters or opening lines. It doesn’t have to be deep – weather, sports, local news, reasons for being there, etc. Read the new so you can be up-to-speed on current events and potential conversation topics relevant to the event or who will be in attendance.
4. Arrive on time. You can meet the organizers and work a smaller crowd. Allow for people to arrive and get settled at the event before approaching them. Positioning yourself in high traffic areas can sometimes help initiate conversations. If you are not as comfortable approaching small groups of people, feel free to approach individuals directly. In addition, if you are feeling intimidated about the event, feel free to bring a wingman or wingwoman for support; just don’t spend the entire evening with them (remember this is a networking event!). Lastly, try to not talk to the same two people the whole night (even if it feels more comfortable). You can always follow-up after the event to engage more and possibly meet over coffee or for an informational interview.
5. Focus on the people, not the food. It’s difficult to shake hands and continue conversations when your hands and mouth are always full. Drink in moderation. No one wants to hear you slur your story about your job search over your fifth glass of pinot.
6. Be assertive. “Hello, my name is…” Introduce yourself and start conversations. Say something after your name to help lead the conversation. “Hi, I’m Darren Kaltved, career counselor for the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota and a new member of XYZ. Are you a current XYZ member? If so, how long have you been involved with the group?” To help keep the conversation going, try to focus on things you both have in common or know the same thing about. Be sure to exhibit active listening skills and ask questions (be engaged in the conversation)…remember that it isn’t always about you!
7. Hand out your business card to those you shared a conversation with, but don’t fling them out like flyers. Resumes are also good to have on-hand. One tidbit of advice is to include your LinkedIn Profile link on your business card. Also, don’t forget to request a business card from those you spoke with. After the conversation, you can make a few notes on the back of the card to help you remember personal insights they shared during the conversation.
8. Following the event, provide yourself a 48-hour window to follow up with your “new” networking contacts. Send a personal email (see notes on the back of the business card – try to personalize the message based on what you conversed about). Request a follow-up meeting (maybe over coffee or at their place of employment) and don’t forget to send a LinkedIn request. When sending the request, I recommend personalizing the message indicating when and where you met, and that you would like to add them to your professional network.
Remember, you simply are meeting people, making connections, and creating relationships….even if you are enjoying the food and drinks. A quality network is a crucial part of your career development and job search process.