In an effort to be transparent, I’m not a fan of the networking event. It’s a little uncomfortable. How do you break into that circle of people? What do you say to avoid standing awkwardly? And worst, when you aren’t employed or you are a student, what do you talk about?
I recently spoke at a PRSSA chapter meeting. The topic was networking for those preparing to enter the workforce and for students hoping to find internships and grow their networks before finishing school. Here are some practical networking tips I developed based on my own experience and struggles with networking. #1: Don’t be weird. After that, everything is easy!
- Do your research. Is this a member organization? Look at their social media pages, website and blog. Who is active in the group? Identify three or four people you’d like to connect with and go out of your way to meet them at the event. This way, if you meet only three people, your networking effort is a success. If you’re new in your career, a vice president isn’t your best option. Pick someone mid-level. Introduce yourself and have some questions prepared. Just don’t be weird. Don’t rattle off all you’ve found out about them online. (#stalker) Ask questions about the industry, where it’s going, room for new entry and future growth. Does their company have internships, etc?. Stay away from personal questions about family, kids and career mistakes.
- Develop an exit strategy. Not everyone you meet at an event is someone you’re going to able to network with, and that is okay. Be polite, but don’t be afraid to move on to the next group. You can say “there is so and so, I need to say hello” or excuse yourself to refill your drink. Another good strategy is to state your goal, “I’m trying to meet at least 15 new people at this event. It’s been great hearing about your goat rental business, you but I’d like to make a few new connections.”
- Do get some business cards made at a cheap place like VistaPrint, even if you are a student or are unemployed. When other people give you a card, you can reciprocate.
- Ask people for advice. This is a great way to move the conversation forward. Ask where else they network, what associations provide value, who else you should connect with based on your career goals, etc. If you feel you’ve really made a good connection, ask if they will introduce you to someone else in the room in your field of interest.
- Do not ask people out on dates. Especially married people. I’m not kidding. This happens. Don’t be weird!
- Do follow up with a LinkedIn request and possibly a Twitter follow if the account seems business-oriented (not Facebook – weird). If a person helps you make a connection or gives you particularly good advice, send them a handwritten note thanking them for their time. Do not send this to their home address – weird.
- Get a beverage, but skip the snacks. Holding a drink gives you something to do with your hands. But if you also get a plate, your hands are full, and you can’t shake hands when introducing yourself. If you are a starving student, it is reasonable to grab a snack on the way out.
- Break out of your industry events. It’s great to attend PRSA, marketing or advertising groups, but the hiring managers aren’t always in your field. So attend HR networking events, general business groups, chamber of commerce meetings, etc. Regional chamber events are smaller and less overwhelming. They are often free or $10 for lunch, and you’ll meet a whole new group of people that will welcome a new face.
In addition to these tips, the students asked great questions, such as: “I get nervous and can’t think of anything to say; how do I get over that?” My suggestion is to take a little survey; this allows you to ask everyone the same question. Pick something benign like “Where is the best latte in town?” or “what is the best lunch spot?” This will get the conversation started.
Also, the students asked how to prep for moving to a new city and not knowing many people. My #1 tip for this is to start reading the local online newspaper. You need an understanding of the region and which companies are growing and expanding. You can get the lay of the land based on a daily skim of the coverage. But also start thinking about your job search. Check out company websites and follow their blogs and Twitter accounts. A well placed comment or question on a blog can help you connect with a company’s marketing or social media teams long before you apply for a job. Don’t flood them with retweets and comments. That would be weird.
Have a question or a networking tip? Post it in the comments!