How to prepare for a networking event:
As an introvert myself, I find that preparing is the key to being successful at these types of events. The initial idea of going to a crowded place, where the goal is to have some conversations with strangers, does not sound like my cup of tea. In my younger years, I had many similar experiences that were not beneficial for me and only resulted in a few very awkward conversations and free pens. However, it is a valuable use of time if one is prepared. By researching companies and people that are coming, preparing casual conversation topics, and preparing questions, you can have a successful experience at the event. Introverts feel most comfortable in situations in which they feel knowledgeable about the topic of conversation. If you have questions prepared and know a little about the companies and people you want to talk to you, it is going to make the conversations flow a lot easier. You will be empowered to initiate a conversation and feel knowledgeable enough to contribute to it. Introverts often feel that if they are going to say something, it should be something valuable. Having a basis of knowledge about the company and what they are working on will provide you with valuable things to say. However, don’t hesitate to talk about topics that you think the employer probably already knows about. Just because they know it, doesn’t mean that they don’t want to know that you are aware of it as well. The goal is to demonstrate your knowledge to them.
Now comes the hard part. Taking a deep breath and actually going to the event. Put it in your calendar and give yourself a deadline for researching companies and people that will be there, so that you will have no excuse not to go. It is too easy to “forget” to prepare for it. Don’t take the easy way out. Hold yourself accountable and make sure you get there. You could even ask a friend to go with you.
Once you walk in the door and wander around for a bit, you might feel the urge to quietly slink out the door, to breath in the sweet relief of solitude. Don’t give in! Do what you came to do and talk to some people. You might want to make a goal ahead of time. For example: I will have at least two successful conversations before I go.
Unfortunately, it might take you more than two conversations to meet this goal. Humans are unpredictable creatures and as much as you would like your conversations to go as you had planned, they don’t always. Some people might be more willing to chat with you than others. Sometimes certain people are very popular and you might have a hard time finding an opportunity to chat with them. You might encounter a fellow introvert who might not always give you enough information to initiate further conversation. But be sure and use the questions and knowledge you prepared. Even introverts can have great conversations about a topic that they are knowledgeable about, but they might need prodding more than others. If an employer has a very popular table, you might want to wait and come back later. If that is not an option for you, try to make yourself heard and visible.
How do you start a conversation?
For most extraverts, this is a very natural process. But introverts can have a difficult time initiating conversations. You of course are prepared with your lists of questions and interests, but social norms dictate that you don’t jump right into these. Here are some simple steps for making conversations:
- Say “hello”, introduce yourself, and smile. I also would recommend adding something along the lines of “how is it going?” Sometimes people at professional events don’t get asked questions about themselves and it really makes them feel like you care about them and not just a potential job.
- Identify a topic of conversation that can apply to most people. For example: Think about what day of the week it is. If it is on Monday, you could say something along the lines of “I can’t believe it is Monday already, the weekends just fly by.” If nothing else, this shows that you are capable of small talk.
- Remember that body language is also important, so try to have upright, confident posture. Also, a common trait among introverts is to look around as you speak. Try to limit this. It can appear as if you are disinterested in the conversation. I often role my eyes while I am thinking about what I am saying, but this can come off as nonchalance.
Once you have successfully had some chit chat, you can move into your comfort zone- the reason you are talking to them. Try to confidently articulate the conversation topics you researched ahead of time. When you have exhausted your conversation capabilities, end with attaining some contact information from the person you talked to. “Do you have a business card in case I think of any more questions?” I recommend bringing your own business card or resume to hand out as well.
Congratulations! You did it! That wasn’t so bad, right? Once you have met your conversation goal for the event, you may swiftly make an exit. However, you are not done. Don’t let the connections you made go to waste. File the business cards you received with notes to remind you about who they were. For example: Jo Shmoe with Apple Computers- Brown hair, green polka-dot tie, and we talked about internships in HR. Shortly after the event, send Jo Shmoe an e-mail thanking him for chatting with you and inviting him to talk again in the future. Be sure and remind him who you were with some specifics about the conversation you had. Ask Jo Shmoe if he would mind connecting with you on LinkedIn (if you don’t have a LinkedIn, get one). Once Jo Shmoe e-mails you back and says “of course”, you are assured of the beginning of a new relationship that may be useful in the future. But, don’t let your relationship die! Stay in touch and in the near future invite him to coffee for an informational interview.
These steps will ensure that your time at the event was not wasted. You now have contacts that might be able to help you get a job someday. By showing interest in them, you are demonstrating your good qualities. There is no need to let intimidating situations deter you from having the career that you want. Everyone has unique qualities and passions to contribute, but you have to make sure that others are aware of those qualities. Networking is a key component of the world of work, so start building those skills now.
Posted by Rebecca Schaffeld, Career Services Graduate Assistant