Young professional or college student thinking of attending a networking event for the first time? Trying to expand your pre-existing network to take advantage of all your industry has to offer? Been attending networking events, but don't feel like you're getting the most out of them? Try these 6 tips to enhance and improve your networking experience.
1. Give & Take
You are networking to meet people who can help you, but so is everyone else. The people you meet at networking events are connecting with you for the same reason you are connecting with them. You are young and likely do not have the experience or vast network to be everyone's answer, but think creatively and make yourself available to help others. Over time, your network and experience will both grow, and you will have more to offer.
2. Follow Up, In Person
Following up with your connections is the only way to develop a meaningful relationship with them. Email is fine, phone is better, but if you want to make a real impact, send a handwritten note, arrange a coffee meeting (in-person communication is always best, for any situation), and personalize everything. No one wants a generic email from an aspiring 20-something they met at an event. This requires a little more effort to remember details of a person you met possibly for only 5 minutes, and even more effort to go the extra mile when reaching out, but it will pay dividends over time.
3. Shy? Make It Easier
Shy? Have social anxiety? Volunteering at an event offers a great natural ice breaker - you literally have to talk to people as part of your job at the event, and you have a purpose for doing so. By volunteering, you will also get some valuable time with the people organizing the event, who likely have much to offer. Another crutch for the socially anxious is holding a drink. It does not have to be alcoholic - coffee, tea, and soda are all fine choices; the psychological benefit of holding a drink in your hand will make you more outgoing at events.
Whatever you do to quell your anxiety, do not rely on friends or coworkers to keep you company at professional networking events. While bringing people you know to events can make them less intimidating, it has also been shown to make them less effective overall because your friends will likely prevent you from branching out and meeting new people.
4. Have A Purpose
Come with a purpose in mind. Whether you are looking for a job, career advancement, getting your company’s name out, just there for the drinks, etc. come with a clear purpose and communicate that purpose succinctly. One recruiter advises:
“Do not attend these events without a purpose in mind. Chances are we’ll meet hundreds of people that day, so if you don’t have a clear story about why you’re there and what you’re looking for, you’ve already lost a recruiter’s interest. It’s not that we don’t want to dig deeper and help you discover the career you’re destined for, it’s just that we genuinely don’t have time to pry for details. Don’t be just another resume in our box.” - http://twentysomethingliving.com/networking-101-millennials/
5. Meet People Who Aren’t Millennials
It is important to build connections with people who have lengthy experience in the industry. Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers in your industry can be valuable mentors and aid your career ascension far better than people in your same position. These people are also likely just as excited to meet you as you are them: remember, everyone at these events is looking for someone who can help them - for you it is someone more experienced that can help your career advancement, but for someone further along in their career, it is likely someone young, intelligent, and ambitious that can help them get the job done.
6. Speaking of which, find a mentor!
So there aren’t many networking events happening in your area, so what? Make your own networking opportunities. Find someone more experienced than you in your field and give them a call. Sit down with them, have coffee (offer to pay, they’ll likely refuse, but it looks good to offer), and pick their brain. The relationship you are building will likely be more valuable than any specific information you get from the meeting, but you also might gain some pearls of wisdom to aid your growing career.