Making the Most of a Networking Event

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Networking is valuable for getting a lead on a job, gathering information, or connecting with people in your dream company.  Most of us are not born networkers. Practice and preparation will help you develop the skills it takes to be effective at a networking event, conference or other industry specific opportunities.  Below are tips to help you make the most of a networking event.

Prepare Yourself

Prior to attending a networking event:

  • Set a goal for yourself. Think about what you want to achieve at this event and what types of connections you wish to make.
  • Try to find out in advance who will be attending. Review the RSVP list before the event. CCE has a Special Events page which lists all attendees in advance for large events.
  • Practice your “30-second” introduction.  Be ready with an interesting self-introduction, focusing on your experience and interests. Prepare questions or comments about the event’s topics, or remarks about news of the day that might be of relevance to people in attendance.   
  • Bring plenty of business cards and a pen, and have them easily accessible. Consider ordering Student Business Cards through Columbia University Print Services (http://printservices.columbia.edu/).  For some on-campus events, bring your resumes.
  • Prepare for professional attire.  Check with the event organizer or online for the dress code. Unless otherwise informed, go with business attire.  Note: you can borrow a suit from CCE’s Clothing Closet.

At the Event

Once you arrive on-site, it’s time to work the event.

  • Check out the registration table. Review the list of registrants or look at the name badges.  Sometimes, student, alumni, and employers have different name tags to make it easy to find people. You can check in periodically to see if your targeted people have arrived.
  • Travel light and check your coat. Keep one hand free so you can shake hands with new contacts.    
  • Walk confidently and smile. Carry yourself with confidence.  Don’t fold your arms; this can be perceived as negative body language.  As you walk around the room, acknowledge the people you see irrespective of who they are.
  • Be the first to extend your hand. This demonstrates your eagerness to speak and interact with the other person.  To look friendly and welcoming, you should smile, keep your arms comfortably at your side, and make and maintain eye contact.  
  • Listen carefully and show interest. Try to associate the person’s name with something to help you remember him or her.  Ask open-ended questions with whom you are speaking to demonstrate your interest in what they are speaking about.  Be genuine and get to know the person’s interests and experiences.  
  • Hand out your card (or resume) after making a connection.  Quality, not quantity, is the goal.  When you receive a business card, pause to look at it and see if there’s anything that generates further discussion.  After your conversation, jot a note on the back to remind you later of a highlight of your conversation.
  • Approach people who are alone and interact with new people. Take the initiative to go up to individuals or groups and connect with them. 
  • Don’t spend too much time with any one person, even if you have much in common to discuss.  Suggest a specific follow-up activity such as lunch, coffee or a phone call, and then move on.  Just remember to say goodbye to each person in a group before leaving it.
  • Keep realistic expectations.  Remember, you’re not there to get a job on the spot; you are there to make new connections and possibly follow up with a phone call or meeting over coffee.  One useful contact can make the whole event worthwhile!

Follow Up with New Contacts As Soon As Possible

It is always a great idea to follow up with individuals you met from a networking event.

  • Send an e-mail or a LinkedIn message telling them you enjoyed meeting them, and make reference to a topic you discussed or an interest you “share, when appropriate.
  • Enter the contacts in your contact list or connect on LinkedIn. You might even create a special category that enables you to sort your list by the event or discussion.
  • If they live locally and you had a mutually engaging conversation, suggest an in-person get-together for a follow-up talk.  For those who aren’t local, put them on your calendar with a reminder to get in touch with something of interest (holiday messages, upcoming events and personal updates).
  • Do a search on Google and LinkedIn to look at their individual bios and profiles. Consider setting up a Google News Alert on those who work for companies you want to follow. Follow on Twitter if appropriate.