Networking is such an important part of life. It helps you makes friends, learn new areas and land great jobs. It also helps boost confidence and, if done properly, will make you actually appear interesting to others! The problem so many people face is finding the courage to get out there and do it.
I have been part of Rochester Young Professionals (RYP), a networking group in Rochester, NY for about a year now. “Rochester Young Professionals is a group that coordinates, collaborates, and promotes events around Rochester that are either, social, volunteer, or informational” (RYP, About Us). Over the last year I kept tabs on RYP activities, but never managed to make it to any events until yesterday. I’ve attended plenty of events in the past, but never one that was meant specifically for professional networking. I have to admit, part of why I wanted to go was just to check out a cool new bistro downtown. I had no idea what to expect, but I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised! I attended the event with my good friend/roommate and her co-worker. The three of us were a little shy at first, but after we realized everyone else was in the same boat (and after a glass of wine), we dove right into the scene and met a handful of really great people. After my first professional networking experience (in true non-expert fashion), I can confidently offer up the following tips for others who may be thinking about going to a networking event:
1. Look nice. Personally, I would suggest going business casual. I know every company has different dress codes and many people attend these events right after work, but don’t look like a slob! Even if your employer thinks that’s peachy, other people will judge you first based on your looks (we all do it, don’t pretend you don’t). Put your best foot forward. One man who attended wore a flannel shirt, gym shorts and a lot of accessories. I remember him quite well, but not for the right reasons.
2. Go with friends. One reason it took me so long to attend one of RYP’s events, aside from being short on time, was that I didn’t feel like I had anyone to go with. I was completely surprised to find out that my roomie has been wanting to attend an event for as long as I have. All this time I was LIVING with a friend who wanted to go, and I didn’t even know it! Don’t be afraid to ask your close friends or coworkers to go. At least tell them about the drink specials and fancy places first before mentioning the networking bit ;). I would recommend going with a group of three. Four people is too many and you’ll end up just talking amongst yourselves instead of meeting new people. Two might feel a little awkward during the times you’re not talking to anyone else. Three is just right! With three people, you don’t look like losers while still remaining approachable to outsiders.
3. Know why you’re there. Try to go with a purpose in mind. Are you there to advance your career or are you just looking for new friends? Knowing why you’re there will help you ask better questions and make connections that are more valuable to you. A salesperson trying to connect with potential customers will need different questions to ask than a person who is just looking to make friends. We ran into one salesperson who clearly wasn’t prepared and came off very “sales-ey.” Had he asked the right questions, he would have realized that I wasn’t interested sooner and moved on to better candidates. Don’t worry though, these events aren’t littered with salespeople by any means!
4. Know when to leave the conversation. You know that awkward moment when you run out of things to say or can’t find anything in common? That’s your queue to leave! You don’t have to talk to someone for 10-20 minutes to make a good connection. Sometimes the best connections only require a 2-3 minute convo. One gentleman we spoke with yesterday stuck around for a solid 10 minutes for NO REASON. It was really obvious he didn’t know what else to talk about. Maybe he came alone and didn’t want to walk away only to stand by himself, I don’t know (this is why you go with friends), but he just lingered. It made things really awkward and it wasn’t until I bumped into someone else that he made his exit. When you feel that awkwardness approaching, simply say it was nice to meet you and bow out. Don’t stand around in silence like a weirdo! Honestly people.
5. Follow up! Take note of the people you connected with and follow up with them on LinkedIn or via email. You don’t need to do this with everyone (you stalker), but I recommend following up with important connections a day or two after the event just saying how nice it was to meet he/she. This lovely little act will do one very important thing, if nothing else: it will keep a written record of people’s names and how you met them! I guarantee a week after the event you’ll forget that person’s name unless you had some magical moment. On LinkedIn it’s important to limit connections to people you actually know and have met face-to-face. In the event that you need that connection down the road (to help land a new job, for example) you’ll be able to recall that person and say, “Oh, I met Dave through Rochester Young Professionals and bla bla bla…”
Oh social media, how I love thee. Just don’t forget to stay human. Networking events are for face-to-face interaction, so if you begin attending just to boost your virtual connections you’ll turn into a big annoying robot.
My friends and I plan on attending more of these events, now that we’ve gotten the first one over with. I had a blast and it helped get me out of my comfort zone, which is always helpful when trying to ditch being dull!
What networking groups do you belong to? Please feel free to share your networking tips!