Networking events can be intimidating, especially for beginners. After all, you’re in a place among other professionals where the objective is to meet individuals that will help drive your career forward. More often that not, they have more networking (and career) experience than you because they’ve been working longer than you have! Luckily, there are some secrets to networking as a young professional that will help ease you into the practice of building connections.
Secret #1: Keep Your Connections Close
As a young professional, your network may be smaller compared to an individual who has been in the workforce for years. Starting off, your network may consist of family, friends, old co-workers, mentors or professors – and that’s okay! They key is to stay in contact with people who know you, know your work and may be able to help drive your career.
The internet has made keeping in touch incredibly easy. While browsing on LinkedIn, don’t be afraid to check out what your old classmates, professors or co-workers are up to and send them message every now and then. You never know when an old contact will help open up a new door, and it’s a little rude to only make contact when you’re really in need. Show them that you’re as interested in their career success as you hope they are in yours.
Secret #2: Practice Makes Perfect
Stepping into a room full of strangers and being social is a common fear, especially for younger professionals. The key is to build confidence and comfort in networking situations over time. By actively looking for a variety networking events to attend, you’ll be able to practice the key skills it takes to build your ideal network before you have to do so for a job.
Make a goal for yourself to attend a set amount of networking events throughout the year, with benchmarks for yourself every couple of months or so. Explore different types of these events – like career fairs, alumni group meet-ups or professional conferences – in order to get a feel for how they work when the stakes are lower. This way, you’ll be able to improve your networking skills and meet new people along the way at your own pace!
Secret #3: It’s Okay to Talk to Strangers
As children, talking to strangers was always strongly discouraged. However, when networking as a young professional, only talking to your friends at an event can be limiting. After all, you never know when you can make a connection that will change your career forever. Be ready to step out on a limb and approach someone new! If it helps, jot down a few potential ice breakers and topics of discussion ahead of time. While staying close someone you know might be comfortable, break away, circulate around the room and try to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know!
Secret #4: Follow-Up Quickly
As a young professional, it’s easy to attend a networking event, snag a few business cards, stick them in a drawer somewhere and fail to ever follow-up. In reality, the goal should be to get in touch with new connections right away. A good rule of thumb to follow when reaching out is to send an email within 24 hours of meeting by striking up a conversation regarding the networking event. From there, you might decide to connect further over coffee or lunch, ask questions and learn more about your industry. If not, keep the contact on your radar (See: #1 above) and don’t hesitate to reach out with words of encouragement after they share big career news or engage with posts that relate to you.
It’s important to challenge yourself and move out of your comfort zone when networking as a young professional. These events are not just opportunities to grow your network with individuals who will help your career, it’s also a chance to start setting yourself apart! What’s your networking secret, young professionals? Let’s connect in the comments below!