How to Make Networking Events Productive

Intelligence

Networking. I find the whole idea a little repulsive. Networking is to me what peace is to Tybalt. Yet, networking and networking events (even worse) are an important part of any complete job search. And if networking is done right, it can very well be a reason behind finding the job of you want. Brandeis University’s Andy Molinsky has some advice—five tips to help us dive deep into the networking pool and swim around a bit.

THE CHALLENGE

I find networking particularly difficult, for several reasons. For one thing, I’m not much of a conversationalist, until I get to know someone. And I find it particularly difficult to walk up to someone I don’t even know and initiate a discussion. While I can get beyond the “Hey, how’s it going?” part of the conversation, I realize that “Hey, how’s it going?” isn’t much of an opener. But, then, anything else seems contrived.

Here’s another problem. I see networking events as a room full of ambitious, successful people with psychological tricks up their sleeves to strike up revealing conversations that will, inevitably, expose my shortcomings. It’s all pretty intimidating.

Then, there’s this. On one hand, networking is about engaging and interacting with other people for your own ends—gaining their approval and interest in you. Networking is about leveraging those other people for your own advantage—even as you’re trying to make them feel valued. The greater opportunity an acquaintance can offer you, the greater your interest in that person. On the other hand, all those people at the networking event, I think, are doing exactly the same thing: to them, I’m only as valuable as I am an opportunity for their own advancement.

Know your purpose

According to Quartz’s Corrine Purtill, Molinsky recommends we embrace that purpose. And the purpose is clear. It’s about advancing your career. And, for everyone else, it’s probably about advancing their careers, too. Just be honest with yourself about it, Molinsky advises: “The relationships you make at these events should be honest ones, but it’s okay to admit that you want those relationships.” Ahhhhh, yes, the college mixer.

Early is good

Personally, I think I’d rather walk late into a larger crowd. That way, I’m noticed less, and I can mingle through the crowd, engaging no one, but looking purposeful. But that’s not good networking. Molinsky wisely suggests the opposite. As Purtill puts it, “At the start of an event, the crowd is smaller and less intimidating.” True. But I suspect there’s a happy medium here: I’d argue, don’t be first, and don’t be last. Maybe be tenth.

Have some empathy

Could it be true that at least a few of the folks at the event are just as nervous as I am? Probably not. But they don’t have to know that. And the chances are that there are a few feeling just like you do. “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes . . . . Before you walk up to someone else, ask yourself what you would consider a welcome approach. What would you like to be asked?” Great advice. How’s it going might be exactly the right question!

Have an opener

Purtill writes, “Having one or two ice-breaking statements or questions in your back pocket can be a helpful guard against spontaneity-blocking anxiety.” And there are hundreds of winning ways to start a winning conversation. I don’t know what any of them are. But I know there are hundreds. And neither Purtill nor Molinsky is sharing. “The most effective lines are appropriate to the setting and authentic to the person speaking them,” Purtill reports. I like that: be authentic. “’Despite all the click-bait headlines, there is no magic bullet’ . . . . ‘The barometer is: within the realm of appropriate, what makes you feel the most comfortable? When you’re comfortable, you’re going to appear and feel more authentic, and that’s going to make small talk go better.’”

See yourself leaving

No, not leaving the event, but disengaging from the conversation that just died. Again, my go-to line probably isn’t very effective: “Well, see ya.” Whatever it might be, Molinsky advises, “Approaching a conversation is a lot less intimidating if you know you’ll be able to gracefully end it,” writes Purtill. “Review your strategies for gently transitioning between conversations in advance.”

You may not find the job you need at the networking event. But the more you can successfully, effectively network, the better your chances of success.

So, how’s it going?

Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.

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