Back in my day, I equated Networking with feeling awkward. No, really. Throughout undergrad and soon thereafter, I believed that in order to Network, one had to attend sort of cliché, “register ahead of time!” events in shabbily converted cafeterias while wearing stick-on name tags and nibbling on ambiguously flavored cheese cubes of variant shades of orange. I also believed that one had to master the art of sipping soda out of a tiny plastic cup while pretending to be interested in whatever rigidly professional, self-important person was drowning on about behind the wooden podium before me.
Looking back, virtually zero of these mind-numbing events actually ever led me to a job lead or a useful career connection in my life. NOT A SINGLE ONE.
That’s right. All of my firm hand shaking and polite eye contact attempting was for nothing.
And I know, I know. I’m painting myself in a pretty antisocial light here. But as a person with a few introverted tendencies and a deep distain for collecting business cards (i.e. bottom of purse dwelling gum disposal mechanisms), I have always kind of deep down hated going to “networking” events.
And then I grew up and realized I don’t have to attend ’em any more.
In fact, in this day and age, networking can be a far less excrutiating endeavor than the days of yore thanks to the likes of LinkedIn and other social media apps built to introduce you to potential future professional idols in the click of a mouse. And your own meet cute of said strangers can take place on the phone or at a coffee shop or a bar or a park or the gym: wherever. No business casual attire required.
And generally, I’ve found, the kinds of people on LinkedIn are cool with meeting you, too. As long as you arrive at the table or bar or phone conversation – again, wherever you two choose to meet – prepared.
As such, here are five tips for ensuring your next
networking event casual work related drink meeting with a stranger goes off without a hitch.
- First, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. As in, you should read up on whoever you want to contact before reaching out them for a meeting. You wouldn’t go on a blind date without doing a little recon first, and that same logic should be applied to professional pursuits. Look at the person’s LinkedIn profile. What career trajectory did they take to get to where they are now? Where did they go to school? Read up on their current place of employment and really consider why chatting with this person is necessary to your own individual career advancement. Knowing what you’re walking into will put both you and the other person at ease. And it’ll give you plenty of conversation fodder to prevent any awkward, “Err…so what should we talk about now?” moments.
- SEND GOOD EMAILS. Not too long. Not too short. Get to the point. Tell the person in a couple of sentences, three max, your background and explain why you want to meet them and what you hope to get out of it. Be as concise, considerate, and deliberate with your words as possible. And don’t forget: this person is potentially doing you a huge favor. Consider that when suggesting logistical arrangements. (i.e. Don’t suggest meeting longer than 30 minutes and if you’re meeting in person verses over the phone, offer to go to them for their convenience.)
- WRITE DOWN YOUR QUESTIONS AHEAD OF TIME. You don’t need a verbatim script to use, but having some points prepared ahead of time will help to guide your conversation. Also, never ask someone, in more words or less, “Will you get a me a job?” Most likely, the person who you are chatting with cannot get you a job. But that’s okay because A) after chatting with them, you may realize you don’t want a job in their field or B) even if that person can’t get you a job, they might know someone who can. But either way, your end goal in meeting them for the first time shouldn’t be about snagging a new position. Instead, it should be more about making contacts. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t walk into a shopping mall expecting to come out after one trip looking like a different person. You might consider making a few purchases, sure, or maybe you pick up an item or two on a whim, but cultivating an entire new look takes time. It doesn’t happen with one visit. (Err….coffee date.)
- BE THANKFUL. Everyone’s time is precious. Remember that. This person is doing you a huge favor by agreeing to meet. They have far less to gain than you do by this interaction, no matter how pleasant your demeanor is or how good that latte you bought for them (yes, buy their latte!) tastes. Express your gratitude continually throughout your communication because for real, you should be grateful. Very. Writing a thank you note after your meeting is a very necessary, nonnegotiable follow-up step.
- PAY IT FORWARD. Think early on about how you can help them out, too. Perhaps you could share an article about their work or product on social media. Maybe you know someone who they’d hit it off with professionally or personally. Perhaps they mentioned how they’re looking for a new apartment and you already know a great leasing agent. Just be proactive about how you can help them because, like I said before, they are helping you out like whoa. I mean big time.
And there you have it. I implore you to employ some of these tips and let me know how it pans out. AND/OR! I’d love to hear about some experiences you’ve had with informational interviews, the good, the bad, and the ugly, in the comments section below. Gracias!