We all know that networking events are important, especially when studies show that a huge percentage of people are hired through referrals and network connections. But that doesn’t stop them from feeling awkward, intimidating, and tricky to navigate. To help make the most of your next networking opportunity, here are a few things you can do before, during, and after the event.
Overall, the more you can think of networking as a time to meet other human beings who are doing interesting things, have unique perspectives, and whom you can learn from, the easier it will be.
Set a goal - Go into the event without a clear goal, and you’ll most likely find yourself wandering or spreading yourself too thin. Think about what you want to achieve—whether it’s collecting a certain number of business cards, learning about a particular company, or securing a solid job lead. Be as specific as possible, so that at any point you know how you’re doing and what you need to do.
Get to know the attendees - If you have access to the list of attendees, spend some time doing a little research beforehand. Not only will this help you hone in on people you want to talk to, but it'll also help uncover conversation starters (ex. things you have in common). It’ll make people a little less like strangers and a little easier to talk to.
Keep an open posture - Picture a person you'd want to go up and talk to—what does s/he look like? Your body language speaks volumes, so remember to convey openness and approachability. Stand up straight, keep your head up (vs. looking at the floor), shoulders back, and arms and legs uncrossed. Don't forget good eye contact and a smile.
It’s really easy to do the opposite unconsciously, especially when you’re nervous. Check in with yourself between conversations and reset. You’re more likely to maintain an open posture if you start your next interaction that way.
Make it about them - This is one of the best ways to make networking easier. Even though you're there to represent yourself as a potential hire, make it about the other person. Make them feel heard, understood and appreciated—it'll say so much about you as an employee.
- Make note of their name when you do introductions. Use it in your conversation early so they know you’re listening. It'll also help cement it in your memory.
- Ask questions about them. If you find it hard to talk about yourself, let them do the talking. Really listen to what they say vs. stressing about what you're going to say next. Trust that you'll be able to carry on the conversation the way you do with your friends.
- Focus on the person you’re talking to, and avoid looking around at others in the room. It's super rude to someone who’s giving their time to be there.
Take notes that night - Don't wait to jot down notes about the people you met, what you talked about, and any next steps. The back of business cards are a good place this.
Continue the conversation - Follow up within 48 hours, so you and your conversation are fresh in their minds. Refer to something specific you talked about, and suggest any next steps, whether it's requesting an informational interview, or keeping in touch for future opportunities.
If I let my instincts take over, I'd stand in the corner and hover over the food at networking events. Interacting with strangers can be draining, and it takes a lot of energy and focus for me to function at these things. Whether you identify with that or not, using these tips can help make networking more comfortable and fruitful for you.
You can do this,