Network Like a Boss
Let me start this by saying, I am the most extroverted introvert that you will ever meet. I took a traits test recently where I scored a “9” on ‘outgoing’ and a “1” on ‘interested in social events’. The instructor had never seen that result before but I laughed a little because it was me to a T. I love people but hate the pressure of being in social situations, especially work social situations. As you can imagine, this makes the whole networking thing a little difficult.
I’ve learned to cope over the years and have put together my tips on how to navigate networking events. Whether the idea of going to a work happy hour makes your palms sweaty like me or you are majestical social butterfly, these tips will help you get the most out of networking.
Go in with a goal.
My goal with every networking event is to have a genuine conversation with three new people; a new person, a peer I’d like to get to know better, and someone I can learn from. This gives me the opportunity to focus on a proactive task rather than feeling uncomfortable.
For company events, I always try to find a new hire and introduce myself. This is low hanging fruit. They usually don’t know many people and are grateful for the opportunity to have someone come say ‘hello’. Also, topics of conversation are pretty easy here. “Where were you previously working? How have things been so far? Be sure to check out this great lunch spot.”
I typically go to industry events when I have a need like new recruiter or a suggestion on how to solve a problem. I try to scope out the invite list beforehand so I know who else has RSVP’d. If a name looks familiar or they work for a company I find interesting, I look them up on LinkedIn to see what they look like (not every event has name tags), learn more about their background and see if we have any common connections. Once I get to the event (I usually try to go alone), I make a point to keep an eye for the person and will make a point to introduce myself.
In the way that some people idolize rockstars, I idolize boss ladies out there killing it (Sara Blakey, Jessica Alba, Kim Scott to name a few). More and more conferences and networking opportunities are popping up that are featuring these ladies as keynote speakers and I try to make a point to attend whenever possible. Not only are these events a great time to learn something, it is also an opportunity to introduce yourself. I like to keep it short and sweet. “Hi, your talk really inspired me. I just wanted to say ‘hello.’ This keeps things from getting too fan girly but gives you a little facetime. After the event, I will send a short LinkedIn message or email to say thank you. This helps leave a lasting first impression.
Have a couple of relevant conversation topics in your arsenal.
In the midwest, the conversational default is the weather. In LA, it’s the traffic. These topics may fill the awkward silence but add nothing to your experience. My trick is to reference a relevant news story (check out the Skimm for an easily accessible news source), popular podcast (How I Made This), or a relevant Ted Talk to help break the silence. I also try to avoid asking questions that are “yes” or “no.”
Keep the drinks to a minimum.
My first boss used to say “have fun but don’t have the most fun” before company events. As someone who has had the most fun (too much tequila not enough food) and a bad case of the scaries the next day, I now keep it to a 2 drink maximum at networking events. This seems like a silly thing to point out but as someone who generally needs a little liquid courage at social events this is a rule a live by. You want to be remembered for being smart and collected, not the life of the party.