Have you gone to a networking event where you know no one, and felt like you didn’t get much out of it? I’m not the world’s best at these events, but I’ve witnessed how a few minutes of preparation can get you 80% of the way there.
If you’re networking for an internship, the environment will be different than what this article suggests. These tips apply more to informal networking events like Campfire at Tech Ranch than talking to recruiters at a career fair.
Rehearse Your Introduction
At a networking event, the first question you will often be asked is, “What do you do?”
Practice what you’re going to say and you will be a mile ahead of everyone who didn’t. I’ve seen too many people unable to clearly and concisely state what they do.
Some will say, “Hi, I’m Bob. I’m a software engineer at a startup working on, uh, an Android app that counts how many breaths you take per minute, and…”
NO ONE CARES! Be concise and tell them why you’re building that app.
“Hi, I’m Bob. I’m developing an app that helps optimize the performance of NFL football teams.”
I can guarantee that you’ll introduce yourself to people outside your field, so make your intro clear enough so that anyone without a computer science background can understand.
Imagine you’re at the networking event alone. You scan the room, looking for someone to talk to, and see lots of groups of 3 and 4. You feel nervous about approaching a group in the middle of a conversation, so you reach for your phone so you can look busy.
STOP! Keep your phone in your pocket! Walk up to a group of people and join their conversation. Or, approach someone who is all by themselves. Anyone standing alone at a networking event will be relieved to have someone to talk to.
Make the Conversation About Them
This part applies to pretty much all conversations, not just at networking events.
Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Rather than blathering about your billion-dollar startup idea, ask other people questions. If you can engage others by allowing them to speak, you’ll get much better results than anyone who monopolizes the conversation.
Good questions allow for more than a yes-or-no answer, such as, “What brought you here?” or “What’s it like working at <XYZ>?” And if your conversation partner reveals something you can help them with, even better.
Let Others Know What You’re Looking For
Imagine you talk to a man named Bob for a few minutes. You talk about your jobs, the best restaurants in the city, and other normal things. As he leaves, Bob gives you his business card. The next day, you look at his card and wonder how you could help each other.
Maybe Bob was could have built a partnership with your company, but neither of you said anything about it. Whether you’re networking for a job, venture capital, or someone in a specific industry, you need to ask in one way or another!
It’s perfectly fine to include your ask in your introduction, as you end the conversation, or even in a follow-up email.
Test and Iterate
This is the least important for any individual day, but it’ll help in the long-term.
Rehearse multiple introductions and conversation questions and see what works. Saying “I’m an engineer on a robotics project” could get drastically different responses than “I develop software for industrial robots.” You’ll know if your statement is good or bad within three tests.
Personally, I’ve had great success when I’ve used the test-and-iterate model in my own conversations.
The Easy 80%
These simple things will get you 80% through any networking event. If you spend 15 minutes of preparation, you’ll be better off than the majority of “randos.” Rehearse your introduction, approach strangers, talk about them, and tell them what you need. And to go farther, test and iterate.