We’ve all been there, those dreaded networking events that everyone pretends to love, but hates in reality. True, networking events can help you make connections to land that supposed dream job. More often, we see the task as walking into a room of strangers, usually while wearing an uncomfortable suit and putting a fake smile on our faces to mask the fear of forced conversations and awkward encounters. This article will expose some ways in which you can make yourself more comfortable when walking into the shark tank that is networking events.
As most events or conferences require pre-registration, a sign-in table with name tags is commonly one of the first things you can expect upon arrival. If your name tag is not printed, the first thing to make sure of is that you write your name clearly and legibly on a blank tag.
There is nothing worse than when you are introducing yourself to someone, and they are clearly struggling to read your name tag. Your name tag should always be on your right-hand side, above your breast. I once had a mentor tell me that there is nothing worse than when a woman places her name tag smack dab in the middle of her chest. Keep it professional and place your name tag close to your face, so the employer is looking where you want them to.
Another one of my favorite name tag tips is from behavioral investigator, national best-selling author, and corporate speaker, Vanessa Van Edwards.
“Always, always look at other people’s name tags before filling out yours. I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened to me where I look like a giant nerd because I have filled out my full name and company and everyone else just has their first name. Or worse, I just write my first name and everyone else practically has their resume written on their chest. Save yourself the pain and get in the habit of checking out others first,” she says.
Next comes tackling the awkward handshake.
A handshake is the first impression you are making at a networking event. This is why in business schools, firm handshakes with eye contact and a polite smile are frequently taught along with other interpersonal skills. Nothing is worse than a sweaty, cold and wimpy handshake.
Although you might be sweating from nerves or from the suit you are wearing in that stuffy room, it is important that when you meet someone for the first time, your hand doesn’t give your perspiration away. Try keeping a napkin or tissue in your pocket so you’re not pulling the not-so-casual, not-so-cute exaggerated wipe down the pants to get rid of excess sweat as you approach a recruiter. If you are at a networking event where beverages are offered, this makes it easier! Try keeping a napkin under the drink so that you can use it to absorb any nervous sweat.
Most people attending these events know that their purpose is to make connections, and exchange contact information to help maximize professional goals. Therefore, there is no reason to feel as though you need to force unrelated conversation.
A conversation about the weather is not necessarily a good lead in to talking about career goals, and is usually a sign of insecurity. A candidate who approaches a contact asking direct, specific, researched questions is a much better potential candidate from an employer’s perspective.
I hate when I hear young students or young professionals open a conversation with something along the lines of, “I love Johnson & Johnson…How do I get a job with you guys?”
This screams desperation. Students and professionals need to realize that networking events are opportunities to make connections, gather information and impress employers with the knowledge they’ve acquired through research of their company. You are interviewing and getting to know a company as much as they are getting to know you!
It’s tacky to try to flatter an employer by saying you have wanted to work at their company since you started college or something to that extent. Obviously, if you are speaking to a representative of this company and know a lot about their mission, you are demonstrating your interest in being employed by them. Make them want you more, or at least equal to, how much you want them! Show yourself as a superior, stand out candidate by instead trying specific, direct questions like these:
“In your mission statement, a technological approach to quantitative market decision making is emphasized. What technologies would be useful or impressive for an interested candidate to know or have a working knowledge of?”
“What are the skills some successful interns or people in this department have had?”
The easiest but most common mistake occurs in the failure to execute this crucial step. At a networking event, a recruiter is talking to probably 50 or more potential candidates all lined up for a job with their company. Besides stand out questions, how can you stand out and be memorable from a five minute or less conversation? It’s all in the follow up.
If you have the employer’s business card, then a personalized, handwritten thank you note can go a long way. More commonly, it’s easier to find the person you interacted with on LinkedIn and invite them to connect. Always write a personal note that includes one or two specifics from the conversation you had from the event.
“If you really want to build a networking relationship, don’t send a generic ‘nice to meet you’ e-mail. Dig up something that’s useful to them, maybe a link to an article about Google’s autonomous cars, a rare poster for sale on eBay or a list of 20 app names you thought of on the car ride home. You’ll feel like less of a self-promoter and make a lasting impression in the process,” Dave Roos, a writer for the popular site, How Stuff Works, writes.
Roo’s last piece of advice is my favorite. he says to promote yourself through a personal brand. Remembering something unique to every interaction not only makes you memorable, it makes you human.
Don’t act so professional that you forget to show the recruiter your personality. No one likes a robot. Be yourself to determine if the representative from that company would be a person you would enjoy seeing in the office every day. It’s important to remember that the people of an office are the culture of that company.
All of these tips should make the task of networking a little less daunting at your next event. I challenge you to get out there, find a conference or event, and sign up to attend.