Why networking events don’t work

a little boy stands alone several feet away from a group of children

Although walking up to someone you don’t know can be difficult, it’s an essential part of networking.

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” When it comes to building relationship bridges, I sometimes can and sometimes can’t. And sometimes, I fail miserably. This is a story of one of those times.

In 2011, after I had been laid off in another round of federal budget cuts, I started going to a regular networking event for job seekers. Each event started with coffee and donuts and mingling, followed by someone brought in to speak about something relevant to job searching, followed by networking (during the networking time, there were also usually employers available to talk with folks).

I hated getting there in time for coffee and donuts. I hated staying after the speaker had finished. During those times I was expected to go up to people and introduce myself. I dreaded it. Keep in mind, I was at an event specifically designed for this. Meeting other people was the reason we were there.

I’m sorry to say, eventually I stopped going. I told myself (and others) that it was because it wasn’t useful, and it wasn’t, but the reason it wasn’t useful was because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I didn’t meet people. I didn’t get to know people. I didn’t build my network.

It took me twenty-two months to find full-time, permanent employment. It’s a job I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t had a friend at the company, and I think his recommendation went a long way toward putting me ahead of the other applicants. The two jobs I had in the interim (one part-time and one a nine-month term) were also ones I learned about because of people I knew. How much sooner could I have found a good job (and the current job is a good job) if I had actually used the networking events I had gone to to (gasp) network!?

While it’s true that not all networking events are created equal, the fact is that if you don’t actually network at them, they won’t work. Doesn’t matter how good the event is. It will not work if you don’t do your part.

Not sure how to make small talk while networking? Check out my post, The Minimalist Guide to Small Talk. Not sure how to introduce yourself? Look for my suggestions in next week’s post.

Edit: Here’s the link to my article, 7 ways to introduce yourself.

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