So I had so much about the power of networking.
I read about its power in the billionaire Reid Hoffman’s book. I learned the true story of Rosa Parks and how it was really her vast, well-connected network that ignited the equal rights movement, not the fact that she just refused to give up her seat in a bus.
Networking is really important because of the power of exponential connections. If you know 10 people, they know at least 10 people. You know have expanded your potential network to 100 people. You can get your friends to connect with people.
If you have 1,000, that list can get expanded to 10,000. And there’s great power in a huge network. Someone you know will probably know someone in a place of power or connection no matter what industry or field you are looking to get into.
Since I suck at making friends and networking, I needed to learn.
After learning about the power of networks in groups and being taught that it’s not sleazy if done right, I wanted to test it out.
Networking is only made sleazy by those who do it poorly. Those who do it right make the situation a win for both parties involved.
I reached out and talked to a lot of people who have great jobs through platforms like LinkedIn and many of them recommended going to networking events. They said that some will suck, and some will be hit-or-miss. However, a good portion of them got their job or rose up the professional ladder through in-person connections that referred them into a company.
However, a surprisingly large portion of them got their job or rose up the professional ladder through in-person connections that referred them into a company. I found that very interesting. There was a certain power to networking.
There is a ton of theory I had but I wanted to test it to see what it’s actually like.
Here are the results:
I went to 3 networking events, 2 lectures/workshops that were part of professional business organizations, 1 professional themed meet-up, and 2 career/professional exhibits/job fairs.
Meetings, Gatherings, Job Fairs, and Exhibits
I’ve been to 10 to 30+ of these in the past for random clubs or organizations. Went to some again recently.
Meetings and gatherings can be interesting because they bring together similar people.
Long story short, these are the key things I’ve learned:
- Meetings and gatherings work better when they’re more social and not built purely to network. The ones I went to recently were more of a lecture style. It was almost impossible to network since people sat and listened. But there was time to network and talk at the end.
- Social skills matter. There was time at the end to mingle and talk but you have to be confident enough to go up to people yourself or you’ll just appear awkward standing there. Lectures and some gatherings don’t work as well because people will leave right after or even before it’s over. You really need to develop a certain level of skills to keep conversation flowing when it stalls, keep it entertaining, and not appear as a value leech who is always asking questions.
- Career fairs and exhibits work better if you do your research ahead of time. Usually, they post companies who will be there ahead of time online. Make sure to research these and see if they are worth your time to go to. This is good for networking if you want to develop a relationship with company employees. One issue is that some of these are more fast-paced and you only have a short-time (15 to 45 seconds) to talk to an employee because there’s a line of applicants behind you. Some of the ones I went to are more laid back and you can befriend not only company recruiters but other cool professionals that are there. I went to one that was really laid pack, allowed me to chat with other people there who weren’t representing company exhibits, and had free pizza. I went to another that had 5 random companies that weren’t related to anything I was interested in. You go through some bad ones and occasionally find a good one. For me, the free food is alright.. but I’m more interested in measuring the impact of professional relationships, since food is unhealthy and is not as valuable as the money that can be made with the right relationships in the long run. Research ahead of time or you might find yourself at a place with random companies you’re not even interested in.
Each networking event had a different demographic. One of the three events was mostly African-American. Another was predominantly white. Another was a mix. They were all for small businesses.
Here are my lessons learned.
I’ve got to a couple events like this here and there throughout my life so I had some negative perspectives about networking events. But I put them aside and tried it out.
- Be strategic with which ones you go to and why. -You can waste a whole day or hours of your free time commuting and attending these events. Quite frankly, there was a whole mixture of random people there. Some of them worked for the most random things. The most surprising included dermatology, forex trading, sales for accounting firms, skincare, travel agent, and food delivery. If you just randomly go to these things, you can meet a bunch of people who can’t really help you much, nor can you help them much. Read what companies or people will be there before deciding.
- Once again, social skills matter. I have done previous videos and content on social skills. You want to avoid looking awkward, be confident enough to go up to people, and provide value so you don’t come off as a value taker or leech. Otherwise, you can be too shy to talk to people or look awkward. The good thing about these is people will come up to you first sometimes.
- Have your elevator pitch ready. You can just come off confusing if you don’t. The first question people ask you is usually “What do you do?” You need to concisely explain what you do and what you’re looking for or else you’ll just be confusing them as to what you want.
- You will meet very occasionally sleazy people who have sketchy jobs. It’s part of the process it seems.
These 8 were the ones examined, but I’ve been to many others over the years, including digital marketing conferences with speakers (and I was helping set up videography for the speaker since I knew him). If I drew from all my experience, here are some final lessons learned:
- Choose the right style for your personality. I actually liked the conference vibe if you can find a moderate sized one. For my introvert style, after the conferences, people mingle in the lobby to talk and a few mingle in the ballroom that the talk was held. These are ripe places to get into conversations that are not too big or noisy. If you’re more outgoing, a different style may work for you. Honestly, I haven’t figured it all out, and it’s still a bit of a chore and uncomfortable to socialize in any of these environments, but I found that certain venues just don’t fit my style since they’re too noisy or don’t lead well to long one-on-one conversations, which is what I prefer, so play to your strengths!
- Stay positive and have a bit of a tough skin. Especially in Washington, D.C., it seems like people are superficial. Some CEOs or professionals immediately appear disinterested or leave if they don’t find you have the right job title or anything to offer them. It’s a more selfish environment, which can come off kind of rude or icky. After reading networking books and courses from greats like Keith Ferrazzi, I have the empathy to understand why others behave that way, but I also think if you have a lot of time, don’t be superficial like this because you never know what someone can offer you one day or who they know. Plus, they’re human beings too, so treating them like that is kind of terrible. Perhaps, I just ran into some busy, time-strapped CEOs that day.
- Social skills matter! I know I say this a lot, but I reflect on some events I’ve been to, and I realize now that my conversation skills sucked. Each time there was a silence, I often waited for them to fill it. I would resort to questions or short statements. I need to have an arsenal of conversation questions to go off that are value-giving or fun. Otherwise, I realize now that I would bore people away. If you’re not presenting much value at all, it’s not a good look. I used to wonder why my conversations would fizzle, and few people talked to me for long. There was one networking event I had at a football team’s locker room (really cool venue!) that I still remember to this day that ended just like this.
- Connect people. Connectors add a lot of value just by introducing two people who can benefit from each other. Some people are more inclined to have this skill, but if you think you fit this mold, do it! It takes little effort for you, but can add tremendous value to others.
- Most of the people you meet won’t lead anywhere. And that’s okay!
- The best networking doesn’t feel transactional or like networking. You’re just hanging out! Get to know them as people. No one really likes to feel objectified. If you’re looking for a job, don’t lead with that, dude.
My sample size is pretty small, but I’ve gone to a handful of events like this a few years ago before this. Additionally, it’s taken me countless days and hours to commute and go to these things. I do have tested experience now.
I learned that a lot of small businesses are not as glamorous or profitable as Hollywood’s definition of entrepreneur. There’s a lot of struggling small businesses that are hustling to get by, and some doing reasonably, but not exceptionally well.
A quick summary of the key takeaways in case you were too lazy to read everything (plus a few important points I didn’t add above):
- Networking can be really useful if done right. Social skills and win-win value giving relationships work best.
- However, you should be strategic in what type of people you want to meet ahead of time so you don’t waste tons of time spinning your wheels going to random events with random professionals.
- Don’t be too picky or strict on who you want to meet because the magic of networking is that random people you don’t think can help might be able to.
I will continue tweaking my perspective and opinion on networking as I get more experience under my belt. It is true that you don’t see the most accomplished CEO’s like Mark Zuckerberg running around to 4 networking events every day. Most are too busy building their businesses.
I think a healthy balance should be made. You can waste a lot of time if you’re not strategic with it.
Right now, the biggest lesson is that you can waste time if you’re not strategic and at least somewhat picky on which networking events will give the biggest impact for time invested.
In certain ways, LinkedIn is more effective since you can find specific people who live in a specific area who have the job titles you are interested in, went to the school you went to, work in the industry you are in, and work at a company you’re interested in. Then, you can reach out to them directly and schedule an in-person meeting.
That gives you a higher quality relationship.
The only big issue is that there’s a small chance that they will agree to your interview and it’s not guaranteed. With an event, an in-person meeting is forced by definition. And in-person meetings are sometimes worth 5 times a digital email conversation or phone call.
There seems to be pro’s and con’s to both. My suggestion is to test both.