And if you’re heading to your first in-person event without so much as a user’s manual, well, you’re in luck.
Here’s a survival guide for your first in-person social networking event:
Yes, you’ll need to talk with strangers
Sounds scary, I know. But you may actually find a few new friends in the woodpile, even friends who end up in the life-loyal category. But to turn strangers into friends, you’ll need to learn how to talk to strangers, how to start, maintain, and end a conversation with style.
Create a few smart networking habits
Networking events ask a lot from participants. But if you develop good social networking habits in advance, you’ll succeed. Knowing how to be memorable, relevant, and considerate will go a long way.
Come with business cards
Often a common sign of someone new is the lack of a business card. Can you get by without one? Sure. But it feels good to have one, and it allows helps all the new people who are exposed to you that day remember you. A good networking business card looks professional and includes key data on you and your job-search objectives.
Practice your elevator pitch
Not everyone loves the idea of the elevator pitch. To some jobseekers, it feels like a tired exercise. But like it or not, you’ll be asked to tell your story in some fashion during a networking event, so you should come prepared.
Mistakes to avoid
I’d hate to have you go this far and then stick a foot in your mouth. So here are a few social networking mistakes to avoid. These will show off your age, old-style networking training, or the wrong attitude. They include being over-dressed, the over-distribution of business cards, and acting with selfish abandon. Remember: It’s not all about you.
Arrive early and stay late
You can see many benefits to this tip. First, you won’t be late. That means you can relax, find the room, and scope out the layout. Second, you can connect first with the speaker (if there is one) and the event leadership, introducing yourself and perhaps getting a few tips on who will be there. Finally, staying late allows you to maximize your time away from home. After all, you already took the time to get dressed and drive over. Why not stay awhile?
Know your objectives cold
The most common question at a networking event is, “What are you looking for?” Do you know the answer? Here’s a hint: Be specific. Your answer to this question will either help people place you in a category for sharing job leads or leave you in the corner with others who were vague. Give specifics, including at least a few target companies.
Don’t sit until it’s necessary
Nothing says, “don’t come talk to me” like taking a seat. It says you’re done for the night when you should just be getting started. If you absolutely need to save a seat, bring a stadium cushion to place on the chair, then get your rear up and around the room to connect with others.
Follow these survival tips and your first networking event will be a memorable one, for all the right reasons.
Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and learn about his two popular job-search books.