Let’s be real for a minute. Sometimes, networking can feel, well, fake.
This makes sense — a lot of networking environments have a contrived feel about them. After all, how often do you walk around hotels with a nametag and ask a roomful of strangers what they do for a living?
6 Ways to Connect at Networking Events
The good news is, business interactions don’t have to be so dry and awkward. In fact, they can be fun, beneficial, and long-lasting, like the many quality friendships and relationships in your life.
After interviewing many CEOs, company founders, and thought leaders on the topic, we’ve come up with six ways to build genuine networking connections that will last beyond that dinner or professional networking mixer where you met someone.
This article is an excerpt from Justworks’ new eBook, How to Build Your Network From the Ground Up. You can download it for free here.
1. Don’t Ask About Work First
More than once, interviewees stressed the importance of not diving straight into dry discussions about work. Bringing up topics other than work will help you see the person beyond their job title, and build a real connection early on.
“It’s always about seeing the person before seeing their role or their work,” said Micah Keawe, HR Manager of Quartet Health. “If a person works at Google, you can say, ‘That’s cool you work at Google. What do you like to do for fun?’ It helps build a more genuine connection than transactional.”
2. Find a More Intimate Setting
Rarely are large conferences the place to develop close and long-lasting relationships. Luckily, there are still many places where you can develop business networking into long-term connections and friendships. Take Voray, a marketplace David Olk founded to build a unique networking experience.
When it came to online networking and other alternatives, “I felt like people weren’t being authentic,” he said. “That means meeting people in person and genuinely caring about them and creating relationships that last.”
His company hosts hundreds of professional networking dinners a year, where people can take the time to get to know each other in a real way. Other great settings might include a rooftop mixer, grabbing a lunch with people in your industry, or even inviting someone you already know out to coffee.
Get dozens more expert tips on how to build your network with our free eBook.
3. Stop Passing Out Business Cards
This piece of advice probably goes against everything you’ve learned or observed at networking events, but handing out business cards left and right may signal disinterest in actually getting to know the person you’re talking to.
“Going in and thrusting a business card at someone when you first meet them is a big networking mistake,” said Shana Glenzer, CMO of Crowdskout. “It turns me off when someone does that in the middle of a good conversation. Instead, after we chat, I offer my email address — and only if it makes sense to keep the conversation going.”
Understandably, the temptation is huge: it’s an easy way to share your name, job title, and contact info all in one place. But it can also signal an easy way out of connecting with that person.
If you’re still nervous about forgoing the business card altogether, that’s understandable — but don’t wave it in someone’s face the second you meet them. Give it after having a real talk with someone and deciding it’s appropriate. Then, stay true to your word on following up. That simple gesture will make you more memorable and unique than passing out a business card alone.
4. Check Your Ego
We’ve all met that person during networking events — the one who is bragging about himself and only feigning interest in whoever he’s talking to. And it probably left you hoping never to run into that person again.
David suggests bringing your ego down to earth and learning more about the other people around you.
“It’s always easy to see who’s going to be the most popular network person in a room,” said David. “It’s the person who smiles, walks up and introduces herself, happy to be there, engaging, and no matter what their title is, always willing to talk and communicate.”
5. Use Your Talents to Help Others
Networking doesn't have to be an inherently selfish act. At its heart, quality networking is about building a community of people who can tap others’ knowledge, skills, and passion for mutual career growth. Reframe the idea of networking as needing connections or asking for favors into building mutual connections in which you can contribute or even mentor.
Shana, also a co-organizer of DCFemTech, has spoken about the rewarding aspect of lending her talents to a great cause — closing the gender gap in tech.
“I love helping people organize and elevate their groups for the cause of getting women involved in tech. I have the amazing privilege of putting my skillsets to use to help make something run and work,” said Shana. “It’s incredibly inspiring.”
Helping others can be a great way to open new doors within your professional network.
6. Follow Up in a Genuine Way
As multiple people interviewed pointed out, reaching out and keeping contact is important. It’s also a genuine way to show your interest, not just when you need something from someone.
Share an article related to a conversation you had with the person, ask how their kids are doing, or if they’ve gone on any fun vacations lately. It will help establish a rapport and build a foundation for the future. Chances are that person will be more likely to remember you when they have an opportunity coming up, because you were near the forefront of their mind.
Humans have a desire to create meaningful relationships and contacts. Even though networking events can seems inherently artificial, there are plenty of ways to work around that.
“Networking seems impersonal and transactional if you’re doing it just to get a job,” said Micah. “Networking has helped me with job hunting, but it’s never been the focus of networking for me. I find it as a byproduct of helping people.”
Reframe professional networking as a way to work towards genuine friendships and mutual interests — even a way to help others. The quality and return on those actions will only multiply over time.