Entering the workforce may seem intimidating, especially when you keep hearing it's “all about connections.” So how do you build those connections as a young adult or a new professional? Attending networking events can be a good first step. From industry-specific events to networking happy hours for young professionals, these are great places to form connections and meet mentors to help further (or jumpstart!) your career.
What is a networking event?
A networking event is a gathering specifically designed to bring together professionals in a specific field, industry or age group to make business connections and stay on top of the latest news and trends.
There are different types of networking events, meaning you have the freedom to choose what type of event you'd be most comfortable attending. For instance, if you prefer a casual setting, a happy hour event may be the right choice. If you're excited by an exchange of ideas, an event with roundtable discussions could be for you. If your goal is to meet others within your field and expand your industry knowledge, then an industry-specific event might be what you're looking for.
Benefits of networking
There are many benefits of networking, and what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. If you're looking for personal growth, networking events can provide you opportunities for exchanging ideas with others in your field, meeting people who can teach you new skills and help your self confidence grow.
New job opportunities
Networking can also help you find new job opportunities. Networking events are popular for those who are looking for work and hoping to connect with someone looking to hire. Getting to know a potential employer at an event will also help you decide if that company might be the right fit for you in an atmosphere different from a formal interview.
You may also find one of the biggest benefits of networking to be mentorship. If you're new to a field or to the workforce, meeting someone you connect with who can provide guidance and advice will likely be invaluable.
Networking events are opportunities to learn, grow and further your career. The career development that can come from networking events is just as important as the personal connections you make. You may find out about opportunities for seminars, retreats or other events that help you develop skills you may not have gotten at the office.
How to prepare for a networking event
Before you go to a networking event, there are a few things you should do to prepare. The first is to set goals. Try and come up with a couple outcomes you're hoping for, such as meeting one new person, learning one new industry trend or finding a job lead. This will help you navigate a networking event with a purpose. You'll also want to make sure that any of your public-facing, professional profiles are up to date, including your website.
You'll also likely want to plan your outfit in advance so that you're not scrambling at the last minute to throw on a wrinkled shirt or stained blazer. Choose a professional outfit that makes you feel comfortable and confident.
The night before your networking event, be sure to put business cards in your wallet or purse. If you're new to your professional career, you may want to print a few out on your own with your contact information. Bring more than you think you'll need to help avoid that “I just gave away my last one!” moment. If you're on a budget, try a digital business card instead!
How to navigate a networking event
You may need a few tips on how to navigate a networking event once you're actually there. To start, you may want to try practicing an effective introduction. When you meet someone, you'll want to give them a quick, firm handshake and a friendly smile. When you tell them your first and last name, don't forget to listen to theirs and try to use it during your conversation so that it sticks.
Another tip is to listen first. When you're chatting with someone, let them offer information or answer questions before hopping in. That way, when it's your time to speak you know they'll be listening to you instead of thinking about what they're going to say.
Although networking is a great opportunity for finding job opportunities, make sure you don't get so tied up in that aspect that you forget to show people you're sincerely interested in them. Have a few questions in your back pocket to ask people, such as what their role entails, how they like working for their company or how they got started in the field.
You will also likely want to jot down notes throughout the event. It will help you keep conversations straight so you can follow up with the people who interest you most. Keep a pen on you so after you meet someone you can subtly write a few highlights on the back of their business card to jog your memory.
Following up after networking
Wait a few days to follow up after meeting someone at a networking event — especially if the event was on a weekend or they had to travel for it. This gives them time to settle back into their normal work routine.
You can then send follow-up emails to anyone you want to network with. Be sure to personalize each email with their name and a specific detail or two that you remember about them (see, those business card notes come in handy!). If there's any specific action you hope comes out of the email, be sure to mention that. Suggest a few times to meet up or ask if they would like to set up an informational interview.
Professional networking sites and apps are also good platforms to connect with people from the networking event. You can see if there are any work history details or people you have in common that could further your connection. However, a connection invite should be supplementary to a personalized follow-up email, not a replacement for it.
Even though they may seem a little scary, there are many reasons why networking events are important. From learning new skills to finding job opportunities, networking events can introduce you to people who can get you where you want to go in your career.