Updated: Apr 15, 2021
Attending networking events can be helpful in boosting one's job search, but networking events aren't just for job seekers. In fact, one of the greatest times to build your professional network is while you're in a stable role you don't plan to leave since it means people will know you're really at the event to develop connections (and not just attending the event to find a job).
Regardless of the underlying reason you attend a networking event, here are 8 steps for ensuring that you make the most of it.
1) Talk to people
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you're anything like me, you might tend to get nervous, stick to the outskirts of the event, and end up speaking to only one or two people. What a waste of time! Instead, you've got to put on your big girl/boy pants and approach people to introduce yourself. It always helps me to remember that the other people attending the event are there to make new connections, too. That means that others are expecting you to approach them - or they might approach you.
To avoid getting tongue-tied or wonder what you're going to talk about, try the next step.
2) Practice what you'll say about yourself
You don't have to memorize a speech or anything, but if you tend to get nervous, then it's a good idea to practice how you might introduce yourself. "Hi, I'm Jenny," is a little less informative than, "Hi, I'm Jenny and I run a career coaching business." It's short, gets to the point, and gives the other person something they can ask you about. Consider other tidbits to have in your metaphorical back pocket like why you're attending the event ("I wanted to expand my professional network with people actually in the regional rather than just online") or what you're next career goals are, ("Publishing a book and expanding my services").
But remember, you don't have to do all of the talking because you should really be following the next step.
3) Ask the other attendees questions
Try not to hog the spotlight by talking too much about yourself and your career goals. People will remember you better if you ask them questions about themselves. Hopefully you'll come up with questions to ask during the natural course of the conversation, but in case you don't, consider asking other people the following questions to get the conversation started:
What brought you to this event?
How long have you been working in your industry/field?
What got you interested in that field/industry?
Are you from the area? How long have you lived here? What brought you to the area?
What are your next career goals or major projects?
And when they answer your questions...
4) Listen to other attendees when they speak
There is nothing worse than being asked a question, then watching the person who asked proceed to not listen to your answer. This is an immediate turnoff and is insulting to the speaker. If you're going to ask a question, be professional enough to be mentally present for the answer. Try to process what the speaker is saying rather than just looking for an opportunity to butt in with whatever it is that you're there for. People are actually much more likely to remember you if they get to talk about themselves (ahem, something to remember when interviewing!).
5) Look for opportunities to help other attendees
You might not know how to help every single other person attending the event, but chances are that you know of a resource or have a connection that might help a few people in attendance. While speaking with other people, listen for what the other person's pain points are as it might be an opportunity for you to be helpful. For example, if your conversation partner mentions that they've been trying to make a connection with someone in HR at a local bank and you happen to be friends with someone at that organization, consider offering to make an introduction for them. Or if someone mentions that they are looking to secure funding for a business start-up and you know of a local resource for that, then consider sharing that resource.
This will also give you a solid reason to follow up with that person and that means they'll actually be looking for your follow up email or phone call since it's something that will help them.
Which brings me to my next suggestion...
6) Get contact information
Have you ever run into someone with a ton of resources or knowledge only to fail in getting their contact info and therefore have no way to follow up? If you're like me, you're probably terrible at remembering names and may not even be able to search for them on LinkedIn. Argh! Don't make that mistake at a networking event! Plan ahead and bring business cards you can exchange with other professionals. If you don't have a business card and the person you're speaking with at the event also doesn't have a business card, you can take a note of their email address in your phone or you can use the LinkedIn app to look them up and send a connection request right then.
If you've identified a resource they need and tell them that you'll follow up with an emailed link for that resource, they'll be more willing to provide you with their email address or connect with you on LinkedIn.
7) Follow Directions
If one of the other attendees suggests you look into some training they think might be helpful or you are job searching and an attendee tells you to go on their company's website and apply for a job before following back up with them, then follow their directions! I've worked with many a client who is given explicit instructions for how to move forward with a job opportunity or gain free training, but who didn't bother to follow the directions given and as a result ended up missing out on the opportunity. Don't let this happen to you!
If you tend to be forgetful, take the time to make a note in your phone about the recommended steps that the person made. If they gave you a business card, take a moment (after you've finished speaking with them and stepped away) to write down their recommendations on the back of the card. That way you'll remember what steps to take and you'll also know which person gave you those suggestions.
This will set you up nicely for the next step.
8) Follow up!
The point of attending a networking event is to develop new connections with other professionals, but you won't make a long-lasting connection unless you follow up with some of the people you meet. Everyone has a life and their own things going on, so don't expect others to be the ones who follow up with you. Take the initiative and send an email to tell them how much you appreciated making their acquaintance. Mention something that you learned while speaking with them. Provide them with any resources you might have mentioned during your conversation. If it was a great conversation and you feel that you could learn more from them, then down the road, ask if they want to reconnect again in person or let them know about other networking events you plan to go to that you think would benefit them.
By following these suggestions, you'll make the most of attending a networking event and be much more likely to actually grow your professional network!