I love, love, love networking events. It’s a chance to meet new people, learn more about the jobs and industries that might interest you, and get fed for free (who doesn’t love free food??). I know the idea of talking to dozens of people in the hopes that you’ll meet someone who may be giving you a job or recommending you to someone in the future can seem really daunting, and super exhausting, but it has become increasingly important. While you probably already have an awesome resume and cover letter, there are obvious pros to having an arsenal of contacts when you’re out in the job market. I used to think that you needed years and years of experience in order to build up your contact list, but don’t be surprised to know that there are actually some college students out there who haven’t even left the nest yet, and already have almost a hundred business cards, and tons of personal emails from figures in their desired industry. In fact, you should aim to be one of those students, and I’m here to help you out.
I’m not a networking expert, but I was once a super shy student who would have cringed at the thought of being confined to a space where I have to wear a name tag and talk about myself. Now, especially as of late, I’m practically on the hunt for events where I can do exactly that. As long as I have the time and means to get to the location, you’ll probably see me there. This summer has been huge for me, professionally. I’ve already attended so many events, and I still have a lot more to visit before going back to school. I definitely don’t claim to be perfect at networking. In fact, every time I return home from an event, I do a little self-reflecting on what went great, what didn’t go so great, and what I can do in the future. And today, friends, I’m here to share those findings with you. Use these tips at your next networking event to seriously get the most out of your experience!
1. Come dressed to impress.
I know this sounds really small and kind of stupid, but trust me, this will make such a difference in your confidence levels. As much as I love sneakers and a cozy sweatshirt, I know that sporting them to a professional event will make me less likely to want to talk to the people who look super dressed up, and I’ll just feel out of place. So, yes, get dressed up for networking events. If you aren’t sure how dressed up you should be, you can never go wrong with a simple dress, flats, and statement necklace. My other favorite is a button down with leggings and nice heels. Pro tip: make sure your shoes are comfortable. Last night, I attended an event in the most painful heels ever (I didn’t know they’d hurt so much!) and I was slightly less inclined to stand in one place for long and talk to people.
2. Go alone.
The best way to meet new people is to just attend the event by yourself. As comfortable as it may be to bring friends you already know and love, you’ll end up just sticking by their side the whole time, and you’ll hardly meet anyone new. You’re there to get out of your comfort zone, after all. I know standing around awkwardly by yourself definitely isn’t fun, but you’re more likely to get the most out of the event when you’re alone.
3. Just jump into conversations.
This is how you make sure you aren’t awkwardly standing by yourself the whole event. When I attend events by myself, I typically try to grab a drink first, and then I look around for the nearest group of chatting people, and bam—I just join their conversation. Literally just walk right up to them and introduce yourself. You’ll be wearing a name tag, but it’s just common courtesy. They won’t kick you out of their group, and they won’t sneer and turn away like a group of mean girls from high school. They probably did the exact same thing you just did! The drink just gives me something to sip on if the conversation dwindles or if I don’t know what else to say, but this is why you should try to join a group: there will always be someone talking, so you don’t have to worry about awkward silences. So, you really don’t have to worry about this if you don’t think of yourself as super extroverted (trust me, I’m not either).
4. Approach professionals with specific questions.
There will probably be some type of presentation where you’re introduced to a few really successful people in the industry, or people with jobs you might like to have in the future. This will take a little bit of assertiveness, but after the presentation, try to speak with them. If you have to wait in line for three minutes of their time, that’s the perfect opportunity to think of specific questions to ask them. Nothing is more awkward (and more of a waste of time) than approaching them and just saying, “Hi! My name is Jasmin. Nice to meet you! Thanks so much for being here!” and then smiling for God knows how long. Say something along the lines of, “Hi! My name is Jasmin, I’m so glad I was able to hear you speak. I really wanted to ask you about such and such.” Ah, much better! They won’t remember Jasmin who grinned like an idiot for two whole minutes, but they might remember Jasmin who asked a really engaging, insightful question.
5. Target professionals who were in your position not too long ago.
They’re the best people to talk to because they were in your shoes probably just two or three years ago (maybe even last year!) so they know exactly what you’re going through, and they truly want to help you. They’re way more likely to stand and talk with you longer, and they may have more time to really connect with you than, say, the CEO of your favorite company would. If this person currently has a position at a company that you want in the future, ask them for tips on applying, and if there’s anything they recommend including.
6. Don’t leave until you talk to them.
Be a little stubborn here. I know it’s been a really long day, you have a slight headache, and your feet hurt from trudging around in heels, but if there’s someone who can seriously help you and who you really want to talk to, don’t leave without getting a word with them. You’ll just kick yourself later for not saying hi. I promise you can leave as soon as you get to talk to them.
7. Pick the brains of other students who intern where you’d like to intern.
This is the best way to receive insider information on the company you’d like to work with. But don’t only ask what a typical day is like, or what their favorite project is. Get to the juicy stuff like, “what do you recommend putting on your application,” “what should I expect from the application process,” and “is there anyone you work with who I can connect with as well?”
8. Give out business cards.
Business cards always look super impressive, but when you’re a college student dishing them out, it’s like you’re basically the Beyoncé in the room. Everyone you just spoke to is excited to take one, their jaws drop to the floor, and their eyes are practically tearing up at how badass you are with your deets printed on a card. I highly recommend printing business cards with basic info like your full name, email, phone number, and social media (if you have professional accounts! DON’T give your potential future boss an Instagram handle to an account full of your Spring Break photos). I printed 100 cards for just $10 from Vistaprint. It’s been almost one year, and I have just 40 cards left! Here’s an example of what I always say when I want to give someone my card:
“I’d really love to connect with you and ask for more insight. Could I leave my business card with you?”
If you don’t have business cards, don’t fret! Ask if you could exchange email addresses or friend requests on Facebook with the person you’re talking to. Last night, I went to an event organized by Twitter, so everyone was exchanging Twitter handles and following each other. That works!
9. If they tell you they “aren’t good with business cards”…
Of all the times I’ve popped my go-to can-I-leave-my-business-card question, I’ve gotten ONE SINGLE PERSON who actually said NO because they “aren’t good with keeping business cards.” That’s totally fine, because maybe they feel they’ll just lose your card and won’t be able to contact you; it happens. If they say this, obviously don’t convince them to take it. Just ask if you can exchange emails, Twitter handles, LinkedIn profiles, whatever!
10. Say goodbye to the people you met before you leave.
This is something I’d actually like to start doing in order to improve my networking game. Mind you, this will probably only work if the event is small enough for you to actually find the people you met. But it can’t hurt to try. Going back to quickly say goodbye, and that you really enjoyed talking to them will make them remember you more because, frankly, no one else really cares enough to let other people know when they’re leaving.
11. Leave with an invitation to coffee or brunch.
I usually meet one or two people that I really connected with, and got to hang with for most of the event, so when we part ways I always say that we should message each other for coffee before we head back to school. Letting them know that they are free to hit you up any time is super important because it’ll allow you to stay in touch. After all, connections are only good if you actually use them. This person could become a true friend, a significant other (love at first email!), a future co-worker, or even a future employer. But don’t just say it; actually make plans with them. If it’s been a few weeks and they haven’t messaged you, message them and ask if they’d like to meet up. It’s on them if they ignore you or say they’re busy.
What are your tips for surviving networking events? What’s your favorite event to attend?