Two weeks ago, I hit the limit of my extroversion. In the span of three days I attended two networking events and a conference. I talked to a lot of people. I got two job offers out of them and learned a lot more in panels and three-minute conversations than I have in most of my semester-long classes.
When I say that I’m only in school for the connections, I’m not exaggerating. Much.
I would gladly do without the group project busywork and outdated lectures, but I’m milking every networking opportunity I can out of this program. From my department’s speed networking events to conferences to TA transcription circles, I’m there.
I’m not the world’s greatest networker. I talk too much and I’m still learning how to stop talking to someone. It’s hard for an ENFP to turn that off.
But there are some tricks to getting the most out of networking opportunities that I’ve learned through, well, networking. There are tons of blog posts and Pinterest infographics out there that cover Networking 101 so why not throw my hat into the ring?
I don’t follow all these tips all the time because it’s a lot of work and it can be exhausting (especially when you’ve been doing it for two days already), but even hitting just a few key points will make you more memorable to people who can help you Go Places.
How do you even find networking opportunities?
A lot of times, people say that networking is just a fancy word for making professional friends. As an extrovert, I think of pretty much everyone as a potential new friend (or a potential murderer; thanks, Criminal Minds!).
I like talking to people and it’s usually pretty easy for me, which in turn makes it easier to turn any outing into a networking opportunity. You never know if the manager of the movie theater has a brother with a blog or if you can collaborate with a vendor at a street festival.
However, some events are more conducive to networking than others.
- Facebook and Meetup events
- Happy hours and mixers
- Secret Facebook groups in your industry or interests
- Blogs and social media accounts for organizations in your interests
- School-sanctioned events–alumni events
- Conferences near you
- Lectures, readings, performances, workshops, speakers
Networking is more than just making small talk in a hotel bar or theater lobby. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to connect with people who can help you in your career while in your pajamas on the couch.
I follow a lot of romance authors and editors and publishers on Twitter, as well as local writers and businesses because I’m a townie.
Closed Facebook groups are all the rage right now. Communities of professionals or hobbyists can talk shop without meddling interlopers going ridiculously off-topic. I’m in more planner and knitting groups than I’d like to admit, and they’ve helped me make some great business contacts and launch my Etsy store!
Even if you get nervous at the thought of approaching professionals, just remember that lots of other people there are nervous or stressed just like you are. Having a plan of action for navigating the awkwardness at networking events helps a lot!
Before A Networking Event
- Clean up your public-facing online presence.
- Update your LinkedIn and make it attractive. Summary, headline, accomplishments, work history…
- Update your paper resume and bring some copies with you if you can. Tailor it to the type of event you’re attending and the type of people you’re expecting to meet.
- Business cards (and something to hold them with) will go a long way!
- Have your intro pitch and talking points ready to go!
- If there is a list of people who will be there… learn about them before you go!
During A Networking Event
- Don’t underestimate anyone. Even if you think you have no professional interests in common, everyone has friends and those friends might have jobs. Or on the flipside, you might have a friend who would be perfect for their company.
- Ask good questions–don’t just blab about what you can offer them or what you want from them. It’s a conversation, not a job interview.
- Remember and use people’s names!
- Keep eye contact and open body language. SMILE
- Know when and how to gracefully exit a conversation.
- Don’t forget to ask for and give out a business card or two! When I was a freshman at my first networking event (it’s never too early to start) the adviser said to give out two cards to everyone you meet: one for them and one for their friends.
Networking After An Event
- Follow up as soon as possible. The general rule of thumb is within 48 hours, which I broke this week because I had so much to do.
- Be specific about how and why you connected. You don’t have to end the conversation yet.
- Still keep in touch with people you weren’t super interested in–even as passively as LinkedIn connections–to stay on each other’s radar. You never know if their brother’s best friend’s bridesmaid will have a career opportunity for you!