How to Not Suck at Networking

5 November 2016
5 Nov 2016
4 min read

It’s often tough to go to networking events and feel like you’re on equal footing with industry professionals. I remember my first event wondering what questions to ask. Possible options included “Do I just ask them for jobs? Ask them about their family?” as well as other equally as terrible options. Now having attended a couple of events I feel like I suck a little less at these events, and I’d like to share some tips that I’ve found to help me be a better networker.

Do Research Beforehand

Before the event even starts, researching about the attendees is key. As soon as you walk through that door, you should already have an action plan on who you want to talk to. After all, why are you even going to this event in the first place? The first step to success is having a plan, because then all you have to do is follow it.

Introduce yourself

This may sound like a no brainer, but introduce yourself! Put yourself in their situation and imagine having someone walk up to you and just stand there. Or stand there and say “So, how’s the industry going?” Thus, by introducing yourself , you can also go a step further and tell them how you fit into their worldview. For example, I’d say “Hello! I’m Zach, a Computer Science and Economics student.” This allows the person to slot you into their world view and you can now have an excellent conversation. This is important because you…

Have something to say

This part is critical. So you’ve introduced yourself successfully, and now you have this person staring at you. In addition, you’ve already done your research, so all you need to do is get them talking. I normally like to ask a question or two of small talk before going into topics such as asking for advice or wondering how they got into the business. Other classic questions include what a typical day looks like, or what they dislike most about the job. These questions are great for getting useful information out of your networkee. For example, if they say that work often requires them to stay late or if they hate meeting with other departments, that says things about the company culture that are useful to know.

Ask for a business card

Finally the conversation is finished. You’ve introduced yourself, said at least one but possible two or more things (good questions about the industry certainly apply), and now you can tell that it’s time to move on. The second to last thing to do before thanking them is to ask for a business card. As a Millennial, it’s not a thing that we are accustomed to doing, but every working person should have one with them and it’s a great conversation ender. This should also let them know that you plan to follow up with them at some point in the near future.

Ending Strongly

Ah, endings. My least favorite part of a good song, and quite possibly the most awkward thing to do in a conversation. If you’re at a networking event, people definitely understand that mingling needs to occur. Oftentimes I say something like “Well, I’m going to mingle with the crowd some more, but it was nice meeting you!” And then after the handshake, make a strong move to walk in the opposite direction. That should limit the awkwardness, while leaving a favorable impression near the end that will allow you to…

Follow-Up afterwards

This is absolutely crucial. You have the business card, you’ve waited a day or so, and now it’s time for you to follow up with the super interesting contact you just made. Here is where having a professional, current LinkedIn really pays off. Since the interaction is fresh in their minds, you can connect with this person. In addition, I often send a follow up email that gets you in their contact list. If there were any steps that you had to complete (for example, submitting your resume), make sure you submit that immediately and you can have your email look like the following:

Person’s Name It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday at Networking Event. Hearing from someone in the industry really helped me clarify my thoughts on topic. I did the thing and would love to talk about next steps whenever you have a moment.

I appreciate your time in talking with me. Thanks, Insert name

My goal here was to make a short cheat sheet for any networking event. Talking to strangers is difficult and it helps to have a plan to approach such interactions with. Following such a plan can turn a networking event from a maybe into a sure win that leads to new adventures and opportunities.

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