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BEAN Headquarters Blog

Networking 101 for the 21st Century, aka How Not to Come Across as an Idiot

Want to get started with volunteering and networking today? Find your local chapter and join BEAN!

As a young professional, a large percentage of you most likely still don't see the value of networking. You might think "I am incredibly awesome, so people should make the effort to meet ME!"

Well, you are an idiot.

You need to remember that you are amongst the largest well-educated workforce in the history of humankind. You need to be smarter, harder-working, more resourceful and better connected than ever before to succeed in whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.

So, how does one become better connected? Well, short of starting your own young professional volunteering and networking charity group, like BEAN, you are going to need to go out there and attend some networking/social/cocktail/happy hour events.

Have a Goal In Mind

Before you put on your event/crowd appropriate attire and heading out to shake some hands, take a few moments to think about exactly what it is that you want from attending a networking event. Is it to find a new job? Is it to find employees/funding for your new venture? Is it to widen your circle of contacts inside/outside of your industry? Is it to make new friends? Is it to find people to date? Is it to get wasted?

Having a goal helps you evaluate whether an event is the right fit and also helps you with your overall approach to the people you will be meeting.

Prepare a Baseline Story About Yourself

I personally find it annoying that when I meet somebody new at a networking event, and he/she reacts to my opening questions with complete and utter astonishment. "What?!?! You want to know what I do?" or "What?!?! I have never thought about why I moved here."

It's a bit like people who react with panic at the grocery store checkout line when it's their turn and they are asked to hand over money in exchange for the goods they are purchasing. You know it's coming! That's why you came here in the first place!

Do everybody a favor and be prepared to talk a bit about yourself. I am interested, but not enough to watch you sweat and try to come up with a witty response.

Do Butt In to Other People's Conversations, in a Subtle Way

People at a networking event generally want to meet as many new people as they can. So, if you spot a small group talking, you should feel free to butt in. It's not high school clique, hopefully.

But you should do it with some tact. Hover at the edge for a bit and listen in on the conversation. If it's interesting to you, jump in with something related to the topic at hand, then introduce yourself. If it's obvious that these people are longtime friends and don't want to be bothered. Move on and try again later.

Offer Help Before Asking for Help

I know you think your job hunt/start-up/sales commission/fundraiser is breathtakingly interesting to you, but people you just met at a networking event isn't likely to share your enthusiasm.

If you are too aggressive with pursuing your goal (see the earlier point), you can come across as a used car sales person, which might be ok if you actually sell used car. Try finding out what other peoples' goals are first, see if you can help them, and then ask them for help for your goals.

Don't Get Wasted

This seems like less than a no-brainer. A negative-brainer, in fact. However, you will be shocked as to how often this happens at networking events. Drinks are often present at this type of events, and alcohol is an excellent social lubricant. Don't indulge!

You want people you met to think "Wow, what an interesting and fun person.” not "Wow, what a stupid jackass!" Hard to bounce back from that.

Business Card vs Social Media

Most young professionals are pretty familiar with social media tools like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Xing, RenRen and Orkut. That doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't come to networking events with business cards or networking cards. A cool service to aggregate your social media presence is Hi, I'm. Grab a handle and put that on your card. Whether to friend people you just met, that's definitively your call. Try to exercise best judgment!

Follow-up, Follow-up and Follow-up, but Not Too Much

I know that you are a unique and beautiful snowflake, but to somebody who just attended a networking event, he/she just stepped through a blizzard. To stand out, make sure you follow up the next day. It's not like dating, so you don't have to wait three days.

Extend your offer for help (see the earlier point) again and remind them what you need help with. If appropriate, schedule another one-on-one follow-up. If you don't hear back after three attempts to reconnect, move on. Don't be a stalker.

Volunteering/Charity Events as Networking Events

Not all networking opportunities require the presence of booze. Volunteering is actually an amazing way to network. People tend to be pretty relaxed and open. It's easier to get to know somebody outside of their professional mask while cleaning up a park or helping the less-fortunate at a soup kitchen.

As an additional bonus, you know that he/she cares more than just making money, and vice-versa. Isn't that pretty cool?

Are you ready to network (and volunteer) now? Find your local chapter and join BEAN! :-)

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