Networking can enhance your personal and professional growth. Not only does it allow you to share ideas, knowledge and your personal experiences, it can often result in new opportunities. Experts estimate that 70% to 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Networking can be a stressful experience for first-timers. Here are some tips on how to prepare for a networking event:

1. Relax

You won’t become a networking expert overnight, so give yourself some credit for showing up to networking events in the first place. Think of it as an opportunity to meet new people and have interesting conversations. Be yourself! Not only will you be more at ease without trying to hold up a facade, but your conversations will appear more natural and you’ll more easily connect with like-minded people.

2. Pre-networking: dress appropriately and do your research

Find a balance between clothes that help you feel confident and look presentable. Although some networking events can have specific dress codes, business casual is always a good option. As for the event itself, research the attendees in advance if you know who will be attending so you ask them thoughtful and relevant questions. If you don’t know the attendees but find yourself having some great conversations, ask for business cards or suggest connecting via LinkedIn.  

3. Follow basic courtesies

Just like at any other events, be courteous and respectful of others. Allow others to join your networking circle and don’t monopolize the conversation. A good rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes per conversation. This ensures that the conversation doesn’t drag on longer than it should, and that the attendees can meet other people during the event. And if you ask someone for their contact information, make sure you follow up with them after.

Networking doesn’t have to only happen in-person. In fact, LinkedIn is one of the fastest growing social media networks. Check out LinkedIn’s guide to Building a Great Student Profile

Here are a couple examples on how to network virtually:

  • If you have an alumni database, go through the list and reach out to those who interest you in terms of career path, lifestyle or past experiences
  • Look through event pages on LinkedIn Live or Facebook Live. Attending webinars on a subject on which you are interested or passionate about, and reaching out to the panels or presenters can be an effective way to reach a different type of network.
  • Reconnect with existing network contacts. Take note of your most key relationships (past supervisors, peers, alumni contacts) and send them a message asking how they’ve been doing and how you could help them.
  • Utilize your friends and families’ contacts in order to be introduced to new individuals or work experiences that you’d like to explore.

When networking virtually, remember to hold yourself accountable to your goals. Make a plan on how many people you’d like to contact or the industry you’d like to explore, and stick with it. Ensure that you’re checking your emails and messages regularly so that you don’t leave someone on read. And during chaotic times, ensure compassion and understanding if someone doesn’t have the time to meet with you or has to cancel at the last minute.

Here are some tips to help you prepare and destress before an in-person networking event:

  • At the event, find a way to make a large group smaller by joining a table or a cluster of only 1-2 people.
  • Ensure that you have a list of questions you’re genuinely interested in having answered in order to appear natural in your conversations.
  • Remember that listening is a noteworthy skill. People love to talk about themselves; just provide them with thoughtful and impactful questions to answer.
  • Finally, give yourself a goal: whether it be to stay for a certain amount of time, to introduce yourself to a number of people, or to leave with a number of business cards.

If you prefer to network virtually, check out “How can I network virtually?”

Networking does not only occur in the workplace, nor is it generally restricted to professional networks. Your family and circle of friends can all be part of your network and may be able to help you meet someone currently working at your dream job or explore new paths. Be sure to go through their own network list in order to ask them to introduce you.

As a student, the alumni association or database can be a gold mine to see what someone in your degree or with similar experiences has gone on to do later on. Your university may also hold career fairs or networking events for your faculty or program - but don’t be afraid to attend events from another faculty if you find it relevant and interesting to your studies or interests. Student associations are also a good stop to meet other peers and students. Don’t be afraid of attending lectures and connecting with the professors afterwards as an alternative. Networking can also happen virtually; check out our “How can I network virtually?” question.