How to Find and Build a Network without Selling Your Soul
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re shuffling across a gym floor with a name badge around your neck and 2 dozen copies of your resume in a manila folder, hoping to make some good connections at a job fair...but secretly dreaming of getting home to watch Netflix as soon as possible.
Or, if you’ve been out of school for a while, maybe this scene looks more like a conference center and you’re thinking of a way to hand out your pocket full of business cards so you can head back to the hotel.
To me, these kinds of formal networking settings have always felt artificial, and often pretty uncomfortable. It’s hard to connect in an honest way when you’re worried about making a good impression and talking to the “right” people.
And at the end of the day, you want to see the time and energy you put into networking pay off. Often after talking to dozens of people and attending hour after hour of panels, you aren’t sure if you’ll see any real career benefits for attending!
All this is frustrating when you consider just how important it is to your career to build relationships. (For reference: I haven’t applied for a job since graduate school, because they have ALL come about through personal and professional connections.)
Now, a formal networking event doesn’t have to be a gauntlet of social anxiety or feel like a waste of time. In fact, shifting the way you think about and prepare for these events can make them productive...and even fun! Here are a few strategies from the guide I put together that have worked for me:
3 Tips for Making the Most of Networking Events
1. Make a personal goal before every networking event so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Fact: Networking events are intimidating for virtually everyone. There’s nothing more awkward than entering a room full of people you don’t know and being forced to talk to them (while trying to make genuine connections). When you put pressure on yourself to meet every single person in the room and get to know all of them, that only makes you less likely to actually go to the event and have a good time.
To keep from psyching yourself out, create a personal goal for each networking event. Whether that’s simply talking to at least three people or meeting at least one person at your dream company, start small and manageable, then work your way up.
2. Give yourself a deadline.
You don’t need to stay for the entire event! Start by making an appearance for 20–30 minutes, and set a goal for how many people you’d like to meet. Once you start getting to know people in the same circles and run into them when you head to events, it gets easier to stay for longer periods of time.
The bottom line: No, you don’t have to stay for an entire two-hour event!
3. Check out niche networking events.
Going to gigantic tech meetups is one of the most intimidating and overwhelming experiences for people who are new to the industry. Instead, start small with a local tech meetup, or one that is specific to a particular part of the tech industry (for example, women in tech, or product managers or programmers).
A couple of networking series to check out that are available in several cities:
Be sure to check with friends or colleagues to see if other niche networking events are offered in your city.
This approach has really taken down the stress factor for me and helped me actually get something tangible out of networking events. That said, networking is a lot more than attending formal events and trying to make a good impression.
In fact, every professional encounter (and some personal ones too!) are opportunities to build the relationships that can make a real difference in your career.
Networking is More Than Conferences and Cocktail Hours
These days, in the tech industry in particular, networking happens online too. One of my coworkers at Skillcrush was hired because she left such a good impression on Twitter, and I’ve started long-term marketing partnerships with brands and influencers based on blog comments.
So that’s great! If you don’t want to brush elbows at cocktail hour to get your tech career or business started...you don’t have to!
I created The Ultimate Guide to Networking in Tech to walk you through exactly what it looks like to network in the tech industry.
In the guide, you’ll get:
- Tried and true tips for overcoming paralyzing networking jitters
- 4 foolproof networking dos and don’ts
- A complete plan of action for conquering networking events
- 3 done-for-you email templates for following up with new connections
- EXACTLY how to leverage social and other online networks in your favor
- A roadmap to one-on-one networking that makes everyone happy, plus tips for keeping communication open for the long haul
- The definitive list of how to (and NOT to) cash in on your connections