Business cards? Check.
Nice blazer? Check.
Memorized elevator pitch? Check.
Genuine interest in going to a networking event other than trying to find a job?
Networking is important. Relationships can and will propel you forward in your career when the time comes.
But networking events suck. You dress up and force yourself to “work the room.” I’m exhausted just writing about it.
Yes, maybe you’re genuinely interested in some people there, but you have to make small talk with people who are just not relevant. Sounds harsh, but it’s true.
I’ve made plenty of solid acquaintances at networking events. I’ve met people who are pretty relevant to my ideal network of people within my career goals. But there’s one reason that’s crazy obvious to me why none of those relationships ever turned into something more professionally.
Networking events don’t set you up to be yourself.
Maybe some have found success at networking events. It’s a chance to meet people to do business with, which are pretty transactional relationships. Maybe you meet people that you were able to help and vice versa.
For me? It never happened. I hate events, but I love networking.
I got my first job out of college because of a relationship I made while networking. That’s huge.
Here’s what happened.
I was a hostess at a comedy club during the summer when I was home from college. This was a great gig because I wanted a career in the business side of comedy. I put myself in the right place at the right time at least four nights a week. I bumped elbows with people who could possibly help me when I graduated, and that’s exactly what happened.
One night, I was given a list of “VIPs” who were coming to a show. I circled three people on that list who worked at talent agencies because I wanted to work at one after school.
After the show, I made it a point to talk to those people and came away with one strong connection.
He worked in the mailroom of a big agency at the time- and that’s the lowest possible position you can have at a talent agency. He was nice enough to give me his email address and told me I should reach out. And I did. We met for coffee a few times after that to nerd out about comedy.
When I started applying for jobs, I saw the company he worked for was looking for an assistant in the comedy department. I shot him an email telling him that I saw the open position and asked him what he knew about it.
Turns out the post was for his current position because he was getting promoted and needed a replacement.
Boom. Despite that I still had a month left of classes, I applied. Even though he was just an assistant, he put in a good word for me.
I got the job easily. I know it wasn’t just because he put in the good word, but I’m sure it helped a lot.
This is just one example of how casual, real-life networking can be much more effective. We made a real connection because we were in a real life setting and at not an event where you have to constantly advertise yourself and “work the room.”
I didn’t land a comedy club job accidentally. This was a strategic move I made because I knew I’d make good connections while making minimum wage.
If you never want to attend a networking event again, here are some tips for casual networking.
1. Talk more about them and less about you
If you ask a lot of questions about someone else’s life, chances are they’ll return the questions. Then you’ll have your chance to talk about yourself.
2. Be direct about what you want to do, even if you’re not sure
Let’s say you’re unhappy in your job and want to switch careers. You say something like,
“I’m a PR assistant right now, but I want to make a switch soon to become a social media director”
Or something like that. Don’t be afraid to say what you want.
And if you’re not sure what you want, just state what you’re interested in. They’re not going to care if you end up changing your mind later.
3. Email is your friend
Always, always, always get an email address. You never know when it will come in handy, and you should always send an email after meeting them.
4. Talk about life, not just work
This is my way of saying, “be yourself.”
To make a real connection, you need to talk about stuff outside of work. Even if you have five minutes, ask where they’re from. Ask what they’ve been up to outside of work. Your interest will seem refreshing, and it’s the only way you’ll find out if you have something in common other than professional endeavors.
5. Level with them
If you’re talking to someone who has more experience, still treat them like a normal person. Of course be respectful, but be confident. When you’re in a casual setting, like I was at the comedy club, walk over and introduce myself. If you know their work, tell them you’re a fan. People love chill fans.
6. Leave the business cards at home
I don’t think anyone has ever contacted me because they had my business card. Giving out a business card feels desperate. Would a new friend do that? Probably not.
There’s something about the action that just says, “I hope you reach out to me because I need it and I’ll be refreshing my Gmail inbox every hour to make sure I don’t miss an email from you.”
I love casual networking because it can happen on your terms. How often do you really feel like going to a networking event? Probably never. But maybe one day you’re feeling outgoing and want to talk to people. Embrace that feeling and ask questions about someone else’s job.
Casual networking works because you’re being yourself in your element. You’re not putting on your professional face. You’re just being you. You’re more likely to create a real connection with someone, and those are the connections that propel you forward.
Have creative networking hacks you’ve used to land jobs? I’d love to hear them.