A networking event is nearly any social gathering where there are opportunities to meet people who can help your business or career. Some networking events are clearly labeled as such: The Monthly Mingle, Businesses for Business and Networking Night. Sometimes, they’re gatherings for other purposes but ripe for some quality networking. A university alumnae function is a good example.
When Not to Network
At the risk of stating the obvious, some gatherings are off limits for networking no matter how many movers and shakers are there that you’d like to meet. They are funerals and some fundraisers.
Funerals are always off limits. Networking is acceptable at fundraisers for positive things like the arts or a new fire truck for your small town. However, be careful about schmoozing at a fundraiser for families who lost everything in a wildfire.
1. Location, Location, Location
Believe it or not, where you stand at a networking event matters. Do not stand near the door. People walking into a big, noisy event are distracted. Some might be overwhelmed, so pouncing on them right away may just annoy them.
Trying to catch people as they leave is even worse. They may have another engagement to get to, or they may just be done and want to go home. Delaying them will not make them remember you favorably.
The best place to be is where the food and drinks are located. People are naturally more sociable around the bar and buffet, so it’s easier to initiate conversations there. Usually, there are lines, so people are in one place for a while, which makes them easier to approach.
2. Stand, Don’t Sit
Never sit down at a networking event unless you want to waste your time there and go home empty handed. Once you park yourself, you’re stuck, especially if you happen to sit near a chatterbox who turns out to be the guy who delivered the food taking a short break before he heads back to his truck.
This is not meant to be elitist; it is meant to be realistic. You went to the event to meet people who could matter to your career or your business. Yes, there’s always the chance that the caterer’s driver is some CEO’s son, but that chance is pretty small.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
The other side of the coin is that you should never make assumptions about a person’s stature in a company based on appearance. In these days of 20-something company leaders, the chairman of the board might look like the person who delivers your paper in the morning. This is especially true if you’re in the IT industry.
By the way, you should dress yourself for the job you want and not the one you have.
4. You Do You
“Be yourself” is probably the single-most overused piece of advice you get for everything from job interviews to blind dates, but it could not be more on point than when you’re talking about networking events. You’re not applying for a job (yet), so don't act like you are, and even worse, avoid name dropping, as people will avoid you.
You’re already dressed to impress. Just be yourself. When you’re chatting with someone you want to impress, it’s more important to ask intelligent questions, maintain eye contact and really listen to every single thing she says. Be sure to smile often.
5. At and Above Your Level
Focus on networking with people who are at or above your level. It may sound harsh, but you’re not there to make new administrative assistant friends — that is, unless it’s an executive assistant to a CEO. You want to spend your limited time and energy catching the medium and big fish.
Focus on peers from other companies. You’ll be grateful for having someone to call if you find yourself dealing with a seemingly unsolvable problem someday. They can also come in handy if you decide to look for a new job.
The chance to connect with people who have jobs above your level is one of the great takeaways from networking events. Remember that these are busy people, and lots of others at the event want to meet them too. Keep your time with them short but memorable by making an astute and complimentary comment about their business and handing them your business card.
Pick the Best Ones
Even if it feels like you don't have time to attend networking events, you must find the time. Target the ones that are specific to your industry. Go to the ones that are happy hours even if you don’t drink. People are usually pretty jocular and approachable after a little wine.
Now get out there and work it!
LeDona Withaar has over 20 years’ experience as a securities industry professional and finance manager. She was an auditor for the National Association of Securities Dealers, a compliance manager for UNX, Inc. and a securities compliance specialist at Capital Group. She has an MBA from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA from Mills College in Oakland, California. She has done volunteer work in corporate development for nonprofit organizations such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She currently owns and operates her own small business. In addition to writing for PocketSense, she writes for Bizfluent, Budgeting the Nest, Legal Beagle, PocketSense and Zacks.