Think back to a time before social media when you attended networking events, career fairs, and conferences. These could have been within your industry, or just a general chance for business professionals to network and exchange ideas.
There are a number of reasons to attend one of these events:
- If it was within your industry, you attended for the sake of meeting others in your industry. When you get brilliant minds together in one room, not only is there a free-flowing exchange of ideas, but the next great business may come about.
- Many of those events feature a speaker, be it an expert in the field, or someone who was recently featured in a publication related to the trade. Listening to their presentation gives everyone a central reason to attend while doubling as motivation for people to mingle together and discuss the ideas they hear.
- If your trade requires you to earn CEUs for certification, this is a great way to engage in workshops and seminars to gain those credits. Since you have to be there anyway, why not make connections with other professionals?
Speaking as an introvert, these events also give me a chance to meet other professionals who are already receptive to me approaching them. For me, approaching people in the metaphor of a cold call is arduous. It’s not an impossible feat, but it’s that anxiety factor of approaching someone you don’t know and expecting that they will reciprocate by engaging in the conversation.
Even in the post-social media world, I’ve attended some networking events, career fairs, and one political science fair. I encountered another set of people:
- People used it as a platform to showcase and pitch their newest product or service. The person has no idea who you are or what your brand is, but they would just approach you and assume that they have the answer to the problem that you’ve not disclosed. I was in a shirt and tie for one event and I had an engineer approach me out of the blue and tell me that he was looking for work, gave me a salary range, and his business card.
- I encountered several people at a political science fair who would start several conversations with people, and after a short elevator pitch would request to connect with them on Facebook. As I eavesdropped on several conversations had by him and a few others, it turned out he was recruiting grassroots volunteers for a candidate he was campaigning for. Interestingly enough, when I inquired about his candidate, all he told me was, “She’s not a Republican; that’s all you need to know.” When I replied, “Actually, I need to know more about her platform and where she sits on issues I care about,” he walked away.
- Among the greater population were people who saw this as an opportunity to connect with anyone that would chat; quantity over quality. At the time, I admired them for being so brazen in approaching people, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many people they retained contact with after the event’s conclusion.
Networking should be done with purpose and to grow ourselves personally and professionally.
Don’t be like the campaigner who simply walked up to everyone and peddled his candidate as simply “not a Republican,” but rather deliver a solid elevator pitch that will persuade the other person to research this candidate further.
Don’t be the random engineer that just hands out business cards to someone while declaring a salary. Target people who represent companies who might be looking to hire someone with your skills. Unless you are a freelancer and you are negotiating the price for which you will sell your skill to the customer, salary isn’t something you discuss until you’re offered the job.
Finally, don’t be that person who networks with everyone in the room simply to boost connections. It’s better to be in a room with one hundred people and have a quality connection with fifteen of them who come to love your work and will promote you to bigger audiences.