If you think the frequency of career networking events is rising, you’re absolutely right. With no hard data, I’d say – by observation alone – there are probably one-quarter to one-third more networking events this year than last. Trust me; we don’t need data on this one.
There are three reasons, I think. One, the job market continues its steady growth, and networking activity is a function of that. Two, job seekers’ attitudes are more positive, leading to proactive behavior such as attending networking events. And three, more organizations and individual facilitators are running these events.
Net, net: your schedule should be filling up with networking events. Mine is, for sure.
Much has been made about what to do before, during, and after the event (by me too). But here’s a different slant on this advice, looking at some of the most inexcusable mistakes I’ve seen – from the subtle to the clumsy – that will, more or less, nullify your effort. Here are a “dirty dozen” really bad moves, all of which, fortunately, are avoidable.
1. Dressing too casually. No matter the dress code, be the best-dressed in the room. You know about visual first impressions, right? No exceptions.
2. Not knowing the crowd. All good networking events have advance attendee lists. Yours should have lots of notes on it before you ever arrive.
3. Not “playing your cards.” Bring plenty of business cards. Run out of cards, and you’ll be scribbling your contact info on cocktails napkins. Great image! If you carry more cards than you think you’ll need, you have enough. And if you haven’t gathered enough business cards, you haven’t done the simplest thing at an event: asking for people’s cards – and asking how you should follow up. You won’t get every last person’s card, but you should come home with a meaningful pile.
4. Too much to drink and eat. Tonight is not the time to get loaded. That’s for the ball game or home. If you want a drink, nurse one glass of wine or stay with soda. Remember, if two drinks are enough to get you pulled over on the way home, they’re also enough for you to lose your edge at the event. Nix! And did you really come here for the free food? If you’re being seen going back to the cheese and crackers table for the fifth time, it’ll sure look like it. This is a networking event, not an all-you-can-eat dinner special.
5. Eating sloppy foods. If they’re dumb enough to serve Buffalo Wings or Pasta Alfredo, that’s one thing. If you’re dumb enough to try balancing them on those small plates while holding on to your wine glass, shaking hands (greasy, no doubt), and handing out business cards, then the reason people are staring at your tie is because you’ve probably got sauce on it. Stay with the crackers.
6. Flooding the place with your resume. Unless the protocol is for everyone to bring resumes, no one else is in the mood to schlep around copies of your resume all night long any more than you are to schlep around theirs. What an inconvenience! If someone wants your resume, whip out your smart phone. That ought to take about 15 seconds to send – and you’ll capture that person’s email address in the process. Another five seconds and you two are Linked In. What’s with hard copies?
7. Monopolizing someone. Two things are wrong with talking too long to one person. One, that guy doesn’t like it – and probably resents you by now – and two, you’re not meeting enough people. Networking events are not for long conversations; they’re for many conversations.
8. Not asking questions, especially this one: “How can I help you?” The more you ask questions born of genuine interest in the other person, the better your evening will be.
9. Not being there for the whole event. This is not where you show up “fashionably late.” Every minute late is a minute missed. Same for leaving early. If it’s a two-hour event and you get only 119 minutes, you’ve cheated yourself. Play the entire game.
10. Waiting for people to introduce themselves to you. If you’re passively anticipating people
coming to you, well then maybe you should just go back to the bar. Walk in, approach people, extend your hand, widen your smile, and introduce yourself. Take it from there.
11. Not having a really crisp 10-second elevator speech. You know that 30-second intro you’ve worked on? It’s too long. If there’s interest, you’ll get to the rest in the next few minutes of conversation. If not, not. My intro is simple: “Hi, I’m Eli Amdur; I’m a career coach.” Eight words, three seconds (maybe four). If anyone’s interested in details, they’ll ask, but not before I follow with, “And you?”
12. Not having your game face on. No matter how long you’ve been job hunting, no matter how frustrated you are, no matter how tough it’s been, you’ve got to go in there looking positive, optimistic, and upbeat – like everything’s cool and you’re having the time of your life.
There’s plenty to say about what happens after the event; today is just about what not to do at it.
Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and "like" him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.