Like most people who are employed, I haven’t been to any networking events in a while. In fact, the last time I attempted to go to one was when I was a recent college graduate. But as I found out, networking is bullshit for recent college graduates. At least the kind that can be done at networking events. While I’m often travelling and don’t have time to network in person, I’ve been in New York visiting family for the past month so have had some time to do so. Given my present whereabouts, my boss asked me to attend to represent the company I work for, and I reluctantly agreed.
The truth is that I was a bit nervous to go. When I was a recent graduate, networking events were nothing more than places to farm for jobs. This was mostly unsuccessful as I didn’t have the hard skill set that I do now. While I did meet someone who materialized into a client down the road when going as a video game journalist, I was often ill-prepared and didn’t have the right attire or business cards.
But now everything was different. I was older and more experienced. But most importantly, I was employed. The truth is that networking events are a terrible place to look for a job, unless they are specifically focused on recruitment for jobs with hard skill sets. But in essence they are mixers for professionals who are there for many of the same reasons you are as a professional.
That reason is to look for clients. Almost everyone there was looking for the same thing, but your success at networking events boils down to doing the same thing that others are doing but better. If you are there to create awareness for your business or troll for new clients, then you’ll bet that other people are likely there to do the same thing.
If you are aware of that, then it makes networking quite a bit easier. Unless its an industry specific networking event, then everybody is going to be looking for help with different aspects of their business. CPA’s are going to need web design help, and web designers are going to need help with their taxes. The real reason to be there is to create mutually beneficial relationships where the power dynamic is even.
This doesn’t work for recent graduates who don’t have hard skills as they don’t really have anything to offer except cheap labor and a college degree. But it does work if you are a intermediate career professional who has hard skills to offer. Going at that stage of my professional career, it was easier to talk to people than I thought it would be. In fact, more people approached me than I approached them. This made the whole affair less intimidating, but also changed my perception of networking events in general.
It’s now who you know, but what you know. And when going to a networking event, you apply what you know to add to who you know. While it doesn’t always work out that easily, the reality is that its easy to talk to people in a professional way if you have something to professional to talk about. And at events like these, that makes all the difference.