You may have heard the phrase “your network is your net worth” repeated during career seminar or development workshops, but what does this maxim actually mean? A networking event is an opportunity to meet with other professionals informally. The general goal of attending a networking event isn’t to secure a specific job, but to develop connections with new professional contacts.
Some networking events are geared towards certain industries while others can be more open. And many have an informational portion, such as a panel or presentation, while others offer a chance for participants to chat with one another. Whether you’re brand new to the networking scene or an old pro, there’s always room for improvement and more tricks to pick up.
What do you do at a networking event?
Because there are different forms of networking events, the structure of the event will inform what you do at the event. At nearly any networking event, participants converse with one another about what their careers and professional journeys. Though resumes aren’t required, it never hurts to have a few copies on hand just in case an opportunity presents itself. Additionally, keep business cards on hand to make it easier for anyone who you click with to get in touch with you.
Depending on the specific set up, you may listen to a panel of speakers discuss topics related to the theme for the event. Other networking events may offer different speakers present alone or a workshop component. The aspect that any networking event will offer is the chance for participants to meet up with one another. The most important goal shouldn’t necessarily be to meet as many people as humanly possible — it should be to make connections that you truly feel will last beyond the event.
1. Have your introduction ready.
When you see someone you’re interested in speaking with, make eye-contact and offer a smile. As is the case for most professional settings, shaking hands when you approach someone is considered the appropriate greeting. The handshake should be firm, but not a death grip.
When you introduce yourself at an event, it’s important not to overthink your introduction but to be able to go into each interaction confidently and calmly. Tell the person you’re speaking to your name and what you do professionally. Go beyond just giving your title and briefly explain what your day to day looks like. If you’ve had a particularly interesting career trajectory, you may want to touch on how you found your way into your current line of work. If you’re looking to branch out into another field, noting that right off the top will give you an opportunity to guide the conversation in the direction of where you want to be more than where you are currently.
2. Choose the right event.
There are many different types of networking events out there. Here are a few examples of networking events you may want to try:
- Speed networking: Speed networking events provide an opportunity for participants to meet many different people. Some events will have participants answer a questionnaire that is used to help match them with other participants. After an established amount of time (usually five to 10 minutes), an organizer will announce that it’s time for participants to move onto their next match.
- Industry specific: Some networking events are geared toward people who work in different roles within the same industry. For example, an event may be held to connect production managers, directors, producers and wardrobe stylists who all work in the film industry.
- Community specific: Some events are open to connect members of a specific community. This could mean an event for women, people of color or who are alumni of the same university.
- Happy hour event: Happy hour networking events are one of the more casual forms of networking events. They may be hosted in a bar or other social setting after the workday. Participants are able to relax with a drink while speaking to other professionals.
- Conference: Some organizations gather participants who have a shared interest and host a variety of activities over the course of one day or more. Time is often set aside to allow participants to officially mingle in addition to meeting during other activities.
Decide what you want to get out of a network event before selecting one to attend. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, a happy hour event is less-likely to be as beneficial as an event that has a more professional setting such as a conference or community specific event. If you’re looking to learn more about an industry, attending an event with panels will be more helpful than attending a conference where all attendees are expected to speak if you aren’t yet knowledgeable about your field.
Let your comfort level with networking events (or social settings, in general) inform your choice. Speed networking is a great option for those new to networking events or for those who struggle with initiating conversations because the work of selecting someone to speak with is already done for you! Once that part’s over, things usually go more smoothly. And if it doesn’t, you don’t have to think of a smooth excuse to get away.
If you’ve been in the networking event game for a while and feel comfortable enough to speak about what you do you may want to consider joining a roundtable where you can share your expertise with others.
3. Come prepared.
- Follow the dress code: Wearing a business casual outfit is typically your safest bet at networking events. Refer to this handy guide for tips on how to put together your best business causal look. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should feel comfortable and confident.
- Look up the organizer online: Check out any information or reviews about the event that you’re planning to attend. This will help you establish the lay of the land. If a representative from a company you admire will be there, you’ll know who to look out for.
- Read tips on how to boost your confidence: Being in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by people you don’t know can feel uncomfortable, but do what you can to remind yourself that it’s OK to be nervous.
- Prepare your elevator pitch (and practice!): Know what you’re going to say to people before you meet. Meeting many new people can feel overwhelming, so it’s important to have something in mind to avoid getting flustered when you open your mouth. Practice what you want to say to people you meet at least a week before your event.
Whether you’re interested in branching out to a new industry or looking to meet more people in your field, you never know when expanding your network will come in handy.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.