So, there you are, glued to a table in the corner of the room, trying to muster up the courage to join one of the multiple groups of people having animated conversations about work, life, and leisure. You desperately want to slip out the door and escape, but know this is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up.
There’s a reason the word “work” is part of “networking”. Even for extroverts, the process of working a room and finding things to talk about can be a bit daunting. But, networking is an essential part of career building, particularly so when you’re on the hunt for a new job, so here are a few tips to help you make the most of these events.
Where to Find Events
Websites and social media are great resources for finding networking events near you. Try Facebook, Meetup, Eventbrite, Eventful, Yelp, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as alumni association websites, industry association websites, and chamber of commerce websites. Many of these platforms offer a way for you to communicate with the hosts or other potential attendees ahead of time, which is a great networking opportunity outside of the networking event itself!
Before the Event
Regardless of the type of event you’re going to attend (multi-day conference, casual drinks with industry peers, etc.), doing some planning ahead of time is recommended. For conferences, you should gather some essentials, like a stack of business cards, some pens, a notepad, gum or mints (you’ll be talking closely with numerous people, after all), and anything else you think might be important.
Doing some research about the event ahead of time is also a must. Find out who will be speaking, what the breakout sessions will be about, and who will be attending. You can use event-specific hashtags on social media to search and see if people you’d like to connect with are planning to attend. From there, creating a list of conversation starters, determining what your goals for attending will be, and coming up with an elevator pitch about who you are and what you do are all excellent ways to prepare.
If you’re looking for a way to be even more visible at the event, consider seeking out opportunities to volunteer your time or even become part of a panel or other aspect of the event to share your expertise. This can provide you with even more exposure to those who might be interested in your skillset and/or connecting to discuss possible future career opportunities.
During the Event
Find opportunities to meet new people. Strike up a conversation with someone at your table, ask someone in line what they thought of the keynote speaker, or share with a group a story that’s relevant to the current conversation topic. Look for attendees who might be sitting or standing on their own, and help them feel less awkward by finding out more about why they decided to come to the event.
If you know other people who are attending, use this chance to reconnect and possibly schedule lunch or coffee sometime, but don’t fall into the trap of only speaking with those you already know. You’re there to meet some new people, after all! It’s important to also remember that it’s OK to check your phone here and there, but don’t use it as a crutch to avoid interacting with other event-goers.
If the people you speak to during the event aren’t necessarily looking to employ someone with your skillset, don’t be too quick to write them off completely. They might know someone else who would be interested in hiring you, or they could potentially need your skills in the future. It’s best to treat everyone you meet at the event as a potential employer.
After the Event
In the couple of days after the event, following up with your new contacts (and even your old ones who you may have reconnected with) to reiterate how much you enjoyed meeting and speaking to them will help establish a stronger connection and hopefully lead to an ongoing professional relationship. Contacting people via email or social media sites like LinkedIn or Twitter is perfectly acceptable, provided they gave you their contact information and permission. Finding time to connect with these new contacts in person is also a good idea, whether it’s by grabbing lunch or coffee, or arranging to meet up at a future conference or event.
Shortly after the event is also a good time to take stock of how everything went, whether you accomplished any of the goals you set out for yourself, and what you learned overall. Make note of things you’d like to do differently in the future and you’ll continue to hone your networking skills, and possibly even advance your career as a result.
Networking isn’t always as fun as it’s made out to be, but going into an event with the right mindset can drastically improve your chances of having a good time and making some valuable connections. Planning ahead of time is essential, and this can include preparing what you’re going to say, and to whom. Knowing what you want to get out of the event is also important. Giving attention during the event to both new connections and those you’ve made previously allows you to expand your network and strengthen it at the same time. Just don’t get too focused on only catching up with the people you already know. Finally, following up with new connections helps to keep the lines of communication open, and considering what you’ve learned will help you improve your future networking event experiences.