I remember the first networking event that I attended in high school. The speakers and industry professionals were motivating and sparked excitement in me, but I was not alone. Numerous students vying for their attention were in attendance as well. Faced with the daunting task of networking amongst a sea of other students, I felt apprehensive about not knowing what to say and hesitant about saying the wrong thing.
Networking can be an intimidating activity, but as every business student knows, it is incredibly important, if not crucial. I’m sure we have all heard the stat that approximately 80% of jobs are found through personal relationships. So yes, networking is important but it doesn’t always come naturally.
We all know someone who is the prime example of an extrovert, that person that is so outgoing, talkative, and charming. We all love being around them, but not all of us possess those qualities and that’s okay.
For those that are not experts at sparking the necessary conversation and networking, I have some unqualified advice to offer. Make sure to have a rough plan and don’t be late. It can be difficult to join in on a conversation that has already started, so try to avoid that by arriving early and starting the conversation. Everything does not have to go exactly as planned, but have an idea of who you want to talk to and how long you are comfortable carrying a conversation, as well as what you want to talk about and learn from the professionals. It also helps to bring a friend along for moral support, so that you don’t have to fear standing alone. (Hopefully there is free food at the event you can bribe them with.)
Similar to most things in life, I feel that it is important to focus on is quality over quantity. Work on making one or a few meaningful connections as opposed to meeting many people who will forget you. As much as we may dread it, first impressions do matter, but maybe not in the way that you think. Form genuine relationships with people and express your opinions, what you know and what you would like to learn. It is an opportunity to present yourself how you would like to be seen and connect with people who share the same interests as you. At networking events, people can be barraged with so many young professionals, however it is the genuine conversations and exchange of ideas and interests that will make you a memorable candidate. I encourage you to express your passions and how these can relate to the person’s industry.
Introverts are generally known for being good listeners — use that to your advantage by taking in as much information as possible. Extroverts are great at speaking and selling themselves, but introverts can offer the professionals an opportunity to share their experience and opinions, giving you an opportunity to learn and grow within the field.
Like anything, you will get better with practice and become more comfortable with the networking environments. If you struggle to adjust to this way of networking, try looking for alternatives to the standard networking event. Go to other events you have a strong interest in, start volunteering or look for employment that interests you; try to meet people in different ways. Also, don’t forget to utilize your classmates as a first step to building your network.
Remember that those you are networking with have probably been in your situation, so they will likely have some empathy. They are people, just like you. Don’t try too hard to force a conversation or relation that is not true to who you are. Now take a deep breath, relax, and get networking.
Chairperson, DECA U Guelph 2017-2018