by Cara Giaimo
Remember what networking was like before the internet? Me neither, but I imagine it happened on an important person’s roof, while CEOs and VPs drank Remy Martin, made soft pitches, and promised their people would call your people – all while floating inside of a wineglass-shaped hot tub. Ok, it probably didn’t happen quite like that, but the point is that networking events used to be a little more exclusive than they are today. Unless you were already knee-deep in your field, you were more likely to wallow in your own budding aspiration until fate intervened.
Thankfully, websites like Meetup and Meetup variants have lowered the entrance bar for beginners. These sites serve as a nexus of ambitious professionals (and hobbyists) who corral would-be colleagues at all stages in their careers for a magical night of professional hobnobbing. Problem is, once you’re in that room full of others who have the advice, common ground, and even potential employment to share, it’s still up to you to make it worthwhile. The internet can only take us so far.
What To Expect
It’s a lot like online dating. You’re going to find yourself in a bar with strangers who you likely stalked online just moments earlier, aiming to see how they measure up in a real life conversation. Sometimes you’ll want to pull the chord two minutes in; other times you’ll meet someone who’s worthy of a social media connection. Maybe – just maybe – you’ll meet The One… whose social media connection lands you a part-time gig three years down the road.
And just like online dating, you may find yourself stressed by that first-impression-paradox – appearing confident without seeming cocky, and finding the delicate balance between casual and crass. Here are some basic tips to keep in mind while you’re out and about:
Social Networking Events: The Lowdown On Meetups
These are the kind of events you’ll find on the networking websites. Unless the organizer has no decency at all, they’ll choose a bar for a location – preferably one that has the energy to sustain itself through any major lulls, but is mellow enough to allow you the focus such a delicate game requires.
There will be some regulars, and the organizers are often local recruiters looking to meet the budding hometown talent. Expect an introductory once-around when everyone has settled in, and some sort of structured conversation led by the organizer or guest speaker. Afterwards, it’s a free-for-all of networking debauchery, where you should feel free to swap LinkedIn addresses, crop-dust your business cards, or otherwise promote yourself to an audience of peers. Just don’t get all Dead Poets Society and stand on the table.
Informal Industry Parties – Networking for Ninjas
These are easily found by tracking the Tweets of the industries you’re interested in, and actually may take place on someone’s roof (or in a totally awesome converted warehouse space). As daunting as “the biz” may seem, odds are that these circles are small, friendly, and easy to embed yourself into once you take the first leap. If you keep going to these things, you’ll notice a comfortable overlap in your inbox.
Fight your instincts, be brave, and go alone. Don’t be one of those people who clump up with others you could just as easily “network” with on the weekends – get out there and meet someone. Diving in is the only way to make these things worth your time. Just down however many beers it takes to walk around like you’re already a Creative Director or Senior Marketing Analyst and strike up a conversation with someone who seems interesting.
A caveat for the courageous:
This is not an interview, and some of these would-be employers are here to just chill out. Do not bring your resume, and if you do, don’t wave it around while you bounce from person to person. There’s nothing more disingenuous than pretending to listen to someone when all you really want to do is spring open the leather-bound portfolio in your hands. Unless they ask (in which case, props to your Grade-A schmoozing) keep your awesome work under wraps, and be tactful about dropping your card. It is a networking event, after all.
Following Up – Don’t Hit And Run!
As anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy knows, the meet-cute is not the end! When you walk out of that bar or warehouse (or off of that roof), your work has just begun. Over the next few days, rifle through your new deck of business cards and send follow-up emails before everyone forgets your beautiful face. If you can, go the personal and memorable route – thank them for some specific advice, send along that article you mentioned, or introduce two people you think should know each other. But even a quick, “Hello! Remember me?” establishes as you a polite, responsible person who they (fingers crossed) will now indeed remember. And who knows – it might even get you a second date.
This guest post was written by Cara Giaimo, a blogger for SimpliSafe. Cara covers issues regarding home security, safety, consumer technology, and crime; in her spare time, she likes running, jamming with friends, and making strange types of ice cream. SimpliSafe is a leader in the wireless home security field.