Attending a networking event can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never been to one before. Nevertheless, networking skills are essential to your career development and success. Making the effort to talk to and connect with other professionals in your field can open the door to new and exciting opportunities. After all, sometimes finding the perfect job is as much a factor of who you know as what you know.
The first step is to find networking events, such as through professional associations or chambers of commerce. Look specifically for ones that encourage college students and young professionals to attend. These events will help you make connections with potential employers and learn about opportunities in your chosen field.
Here are a few tips to help you make the most of any networking event:
Before attending any networking event, it’s important to consider what you hope to gain from the experience. What opportunities in this profession interest you the most? What aspects of your field would you like to know more about? You should also be prepared to answer questions about your interests, strengths, accomplishments and goals. Practice responding to these questions with a brief (20-30 seconds) introduction — this is often referred to as an “elevator speech.” Lastly, be sure to bring any useful materials with you, such as business cards (it’s OK to make some for yourself even if you don’t have a job) and a pen/notepad or a device on which you can take notes.
Remember, networking is about getting to know others! While you should be prepared to speak about yourself, you don’t want to dominate the conversation. If you’re notified of the attendees ahead of the event, make a list of the people you most want to meet. Research the person and their organization and prepare a few questions that will help you engage in meaningful conversations about that person’s work and experience. Also, it’s not all about how they can help you – find out how you might be able to help them, possibly by introducing them to someone you know.
It’s natural to be nervous when you’re walking into a room in which you don’t know anyone. But remember — everyone is there for the same reason you are. Don’t be shy to talk to others. Prepare an icebreaker question, or use your elevator speech to introduce yourself and start a conversation!
Practice making a good impression
First impressions matter and they can make or break your networking experience. You only have a few minutes to talk with each person, so make sure that you appear engaged and enthusiastic. Smile, shake hands, make eye contact and make sure to thanks others for taking the time to speak with you. Also, dress appropriately for the event.
Networking is all about relationship building. Collect business cards throughout the event so that you can follow up on opportunities or continue to build a professional relationship. One ideal follow-up task is to connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn.
Although you might be a little nervous for your first networking event, remember that this is an opportunity to get to know some great people and learn more about your career interests! Relax, be yourself and prepare ahead of time so that you can make the most of your networking experience. You’ll be glad you did.