Sometimes the word makes people cringe (it should really be re-labeled as “conversation making”), but I have found it’s really not that terribly hard to get thru 1-1.5 hours at an event like this. The really hard part is actually walking through the door and getting to the table for your name badge. (And remembering to keep breathing). I recently went to a networking event, so I have some tips and tricks fresh in my mind to try next time. And yes, there will be many more next times!
I have to admit I was a bit rusty at this networking thing, as it had been at least 3-4 years since I went to one of them. When I attended that one, I was really ill-prepared and had no idea what to expect. I had never done it before, but all the gurus and websites were saying, that’s the way you meet people and get job prospects. So, I went. I think it was run through the Alumni Association of the University of Pittsburgh. I thought, hey, this will be easy, everyone here is a Pitt grad and will want to help. That wasn’t quite the impression I got. Part of that was my fault, I didn’t have business cards (seriously, they are a pre-requisite) and I didn’t have any questions or ice breakers lined up. (Important for people like me who tend to freeze because they don’t know how to start up a good conversation with a stranger). But in my defense, my job at the time wasn’t something I got business cards for. Now I know you can purchase your own via Vistaprint, even if they have just your name and contact info. You can make some really nice ones too, here’s mine. This has definitely leveled the playing field, making it easier for freelancers or people who are in between jobs, or not quite at their dream job just yet still look professional. I was a little overwhelmed by the other people who seemed to know what they were doing and were already in very specific industries. Also, this was a group that met with some regularity, and lots of people knew each other already. I chatted a bit, had some drinks and left. I definitely considered it a waste of time. I just assumed I went to the wrong one, or couldn’t find the right people to talk to. When I look back, I don’t think I knew the right questions to ask the people I spoke to. And I definitely didn’t follow up with those kind enough to give me their cards. What I didn’t realize was that you’re there to meet people, that’s it – their industry doesn’t matter, just start talking. You never know who they know.
So fast forward to last week, and I was all set to embark on another networking event. I had my business cards (all shiny and new!) and had a couple of break the ice questions memorized. I had a positive attitude and tried to push aside my nervousness. I was ready! And really, again, the hardest part is walking through the door. Once you’re in, get a drink, and look around it only gets easier. I immediately started talking to people. Much like that event 4 years ago, I spoke to a couple of people, had some drinks and left. The difference is, I’ve finally figured it out: that IS what you do. That’s a win and yes, I’m doing it right! You can’t force these things, you just have to be persistent and keep your attitude positive. Talk to people, but know when to finish and walk away. I know that sounds like after school special advice, but it really is true.
That being said, I already am planning on attending another event next week. That’s the great thing about networking, everyone else wants to do it too! So this time I am going to relax more, just concentrate on chatting and keeping it engaging. I’ll be sure to check back with the results of the next event!