Networking Events: Make Them Count
You have heard the adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” in relation to your job search. While what you know IS important (after all, you’ve just worked hard to earn that degree!), who you know can help open doors to the right opportunity. So often, people meet and make connections during professional networking events. These events can be put on by professional organizations, alumni groups, young professional clubs, and several other outlets.
While it may be tempting to cruise in for free food and drinks, these events can also help guide and shape your career. Check out these seven tips for rocking your next professional networking event.
Make a Goal
These events are only worthwhile if you get out of your comfort zone and talk to people. Develop your elevator pitch, and make a goal of connecting with three new people, or landing one new job lead in your field. Make sure your goal is doable, and focus on the quality of interactions vs. quantity.
Dress to Impress
Recruiters often attend networking events, so the impression you make matters. Choose something professional that you feel confident in wearing. You don’t have to spend a lot – dress pants and a crisp shirt or blouse go a long way. And don’t forget to wear a smile.
When you meet people, you hope that you are having an initial conversation. An easy way to continue the conversation is to exchange business cards with your new connections. You will have contact information so that you can follow up on your conversation a day or two after you meet.
Don’t have a professional job yet? Feel free to make your own cards with your name, professional email address (this is no time for firstname.lastname@example.org – create a simple email address with your first and last name for your job search), phone number, and a position you would love to land. Have them printed cheaply at an office supply store.
It may sound obvious, but you will not remember the details of every conversation you have during the networking event. When your conversations end, take a few notes on the back of the business cards about your conversation. These notes will help with your follow-up later.
Listen and Ask Questions
You are attending a networking event to meet people – let them tell their story. Actively listen and ask questions throughout. Have a few questions in case conversation stalls – people love to talk about their primary roles, what they think of the company culture, and how they got into their field. Genuinely listen to what they say.
Give a Firm Handshake
In a post-COVID world, you will once again be able to shake hands with the people you meet. Give a firm handshake while making eye contact with the person you are speaking with. Smile, and compliment them warmly. You will certainly make a good impression.
Once the networking event is over, make sure you connect virtually. Find your new connection on LinkedIn. Provide warm introductions to people in your circle when it may be beneficial. Send follow up emails that provide value to your connection. (One time-tested tip to help with your follow up: if you have recently read an article about a topic you spoke about, include it with your email.) Doing these things will help you stand out in the eyes of your new connections.
Above all else, remember that everyone is in the same boat. Few people truly enjoy staged networking events, but following these tips may help. Use them as an opportunity to really learn about new people and services in your area. Making connections take time, but the effort will pay dividends in the end.