5 Tips to Turn Networking from “How Long Does It Last?” to “A Blast!”

networking conference
Networking at the UCLA Anderson CREATE Conference

Networking. Whether you’re going to B-school or attending professional conferences, networking will be a big part of your life.

Many of my clients have questions about how to network effectively. So today, I’m here to give you some answers.

Look, I get it. Lots people hate networking. They see it as forced small talk, so they experience it as fake and painful. But that’s not what networking is about at all!

Instead, networking is about building professional relationships in a group setting. It helps you to lay the groundwork for requesting informational interviews and getting connected to other people who share your interests.

It may seem intimidating, but once you know the basics, entering those dreaded networking circles (see below video) will become second nature.

Here are my top 5 networking tips.

1. Don’t be a robot!

Recruiters have to interact with hundreds of candidates at networking events. A surefire way to be forgettable is if you have no personality.

Your job at a networking event isn’t to show off your intellect. You just need to make a human connection with someone else so that you can follow up later. Often “softball” questions, like what was their most interesting project in the past year, are the best way to go.

Finally, recruiters are looking for candidates with people skills who can interact well with colleagues and/or clients. In fact, 77 percent of employers say that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. This is your chance to show them that you’re the kind of person they’d want in their office – emphasis on person.

2. Give and get introductions.

You’ve been there before – a group of candidates are all clustered around a recruiter and you want in, but you don’t want to be awkward.

Pro tip: Attend networking events with a friend so that you always have someone to introduce you.

The absolute best way into one of these group convos is to be introduced by someone who’s already in the group. Here’s what you do – stand slightly to the side and behind someone you know, so they can see you want to be let in. Then, allow them to introduce you.

Follow up on their introduction with a ten second explanation of where you’re from and what you’ve been doing in your career up until this point so people know a little about you.

Of course, this introduction thing goes both ways. If you’re in a group conversation and you see someone wants to get in – introduce them! Or if you don’t know them, step to the side to make room, and during the next pause in the conversation, let them know what the group has been discussing so they can participate.

3. Secure the business card.

So you’ve had a great conversation and made some personal connections. Now you’re ready to leave the group and meet other people at the event. What’s the right exit strategy?

business card
Pro tip: Take your notes about each conversation on the back of the person’s business card. Then when you get home, add them to your network tracking sheet.

Don’t just leave with no explanation, but don’t feel trapped either.

Instead, wait until there’s a lull in the conversation, or someone new tries to enter the group. Then say your goodbyes, which can be short and sweet. “It’s been great hearing about your experiences at the firm. I’m going to speak with some of your other colleagues, but I’d love to follow up with you.”

Then seal the deal with the most important line – “Do you have a card?”

4. Eat and take notes.

Once you’ve exited a group chat, this is your chance to do two key things. First, eat. It’s awkward to hold your padfolio, a drink, AND a plate. That’s why you shouldn’t do it. Instead, wait to eat until you get a break between conversations – that way you have enough hands when you go back to your conversations.

Second, take notes. While the conversation is still fresh in your brain, take some notes on what you learned. Believe me, you will thank yourself later when you sit down to write a follow up email. Once you’re done eating and taking notes, get back in there and keep meeting people!

looking at phone bad
Pro tip: Write notes by hand instead of on your phone. If you’re on your phone, people may think you’re texting and checked out of the event.

5. Follow up.

Ideally, you reach back out within 24 hours to the people you met. The subject line of your follow up email should be something like, “Great chatting at X event” so they know who you are right off the bat.

Thank them for their time, mention something personal that you learned during your conversation, and then if you want to talk to them again, ask for an informational interview. (Not sure what to say, or how informationals work? We’ll have a whole other blog dedicated to the topic. Stay tuned.)

And that’s it!

If you haven’t done a lot of networking before, it can feel intimidating, but the most important thing to remember is that it’s really just about establishing a human connection. Be yourself, be curious, and follow my five tips. If you do those things, you’ll be a networking pro in no time.

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