The first time I went to a networking event, I was so nervous that I brought my resume and business cards in case anyone asked me what I did. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary: as soon as I walked in the door, someone greeted me and introduced himself. He then proceeded to tell me all about his company’s latest project (which ended up being something completely unrelated to what he said it was going to be). It turns out he just wanted someone new to talk with—no questions asked! This experience taught me that networking is about more than just handing out your business card and trying not to look like an idiot at cocktail parties. It’s about connecting with other people in your community through shared interests, experiences or backgrounds (or all three). After you’ve mastered the networking basics of meeting new people at events where everyone knows each other already (like weddings), here are some networking skills for doing well during face-to-face interactions at conferences or smaller gatherings:
Finding the right event is key for a good networking session.
There are a lot of networking events out there, and it can be hard to know which ones are worth your time. Make sure that you’re attending events that are relevant to your field, interests, career stage, personal development goals…the list goes on!
If you’re looking for a good way to find local events (or start hosting them yourself), check out Eventbrite’s Local Guides.
Great! You’re ready to start networking. But before you do, it’s important to dress appropriately.
- Dress to make a good first impression. This means avoiding business suits and other formal attire at events like happy hours, or book clubs (unless you know for sure that’s what everyone will be wearing). Instead, wear clothes that are appropriate for the event: if you’re going somewhere casual like brunch or happy hour, dress comfortably; if it’s a networking event with very structured seating arrangements, consider wearing something professional but not stuffy.
- Dress for the audience. If your coworker is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt but there are people at the table who have opted for more formal attire (such as button-downs), do yourself a favor by following suit. It may feel strange at first, but once you get used to dressing up occasionally when needed it’ll be second nature—and besides that feeling good about how you look is half the point!
- Dress for the location: keep things nice and warm if there’s snow outside; stay cool if temperatures are high inside; dress appropriately according to weather conditions outside of an office venue so nobody thinks twice about what they see through windows from inside their cars driving by
Think of what you want to say.
- Be prepared. If you’re going to a networking event, it’s important to be ready with some talking points and questions in mind. People will ask what you do, and it’s not OK to say “I’m unemployed” or “I’m looking for work.”
- Be prepared to listen. When someone asks a question of you, really try your best to listen and answer fully—without being so eager that they feel like they’re talking into a void. The goal is not just that everyone goes home feeling good about themselves (although maybe it should be), but also that everyone has something new to think about or act upon as the direct result of a conversation at the event.
- Be prepared to share yourself with strangers (and even friends). Remember: networking is all about making connections! So don’t worry if someone asks what you do; if there are other things in your life besides work that are important/interesting/funny/important for them not know about yet (like how much money I owe my ex-wife), give them some info anyway!
Ask the right questions to identify common interests
- Don’t ask questions that you already know the answer to.
- Ask relevant questions.
- Ask questions that show you are listening.
- Ask questions that show your genuine interest in the person, event or company.
- Listen to the answers and continue a relevant conversation.
Clean up your online presence.
Clean up your online presence.
If you’re not already doing this, it’s time to take a good look at your social media accounts and make sure they reflect who you want to be seen as.
- Are there embarrassing photos? Offensive content?
- Is your privacy settings set appropriately so that only those whom you want in on the conversation with can see what’s going on?
- Have you removed any personal information (e.g., references to past employers)?
All of these little things will help ensure that people who come into contact with you online get a good idea of who exactly they’re dealing with, but only if they can find everything about you out there rather than just parts here and there.
Be positive and be yourself.
When you’re ready to network, keep these tips in mind:
- Be positive. People are naturally drawn to those who are positive and have a good attitude. Smile and be friendly with everyone you meet!
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else just because you think it will help you make more contacts or land a job. The only way for people to get to know the real “you” is if they see that side of your personality naturally come out when interacting with others; otherwise, they may not even notice what makes working with (or hiring) you so great.
Follow up after a networking event.
- Be thoughtful. Don’t send an email or text right after the event, because you’ll come off as pushy. If you’re interested in connecting with someone, wait a day or two to give them time to digest what happened and remember you.
- Don’t be too persistent. If someone doesn’t get back to you right away, don’t keep following up with them—they’ll start seeing it as annoying rather than professional networking behavior (and they may not even realize that’s why they’re annoyed!).
- Don’t be too casual. It’s great if your contact refers to the event casually (“Hey, that was fun!”), but don’t use language like “super cool” or “awesome” unless there’s some reason for it other than just how nice of a person he is (and even then…).
In conclusion, local networking is an excellent way to meet new people and build relationships with them. It can be intimidating at first but with a little bit of research and preparation you’ll feel more confident the next time you attend an event.