Do Networking Events Work?

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BusinessNetwork

Do Networking Events Work?

If you’re in search of a new position, you have to network, period. You can’t get around that. So if you’re going to network, it makes sense to attend networking events, right? If you’re going to network–and particularly if you’re not all that comfortable with it–it only makes sense to go a place where everyone ELSE is networking too, right? More bang for the buck …

Well, maybe.

Don’t get me wrong: doing the rounds at a networking event is better than not networking at all. But they’re not necessarily a good fit for everyone. Sure, you’re making connections … but are you really building relationships? Because that is the real goal of networking: turning encounters into mutually beneficial relationships for sharing expertise and increasing referrals. And networking events aren’t necessarily the ideal environment for that.

For one thing, they tend to be a bit chaotic. They’re not like, say, a job fair, where the people you need to talk to are set up in a fixed location, and you can pick and choose who you want to talk to based on your needs. Job fairs are great for that.

Networking events, however, are more like giant pinball machines, where you randomly bounce from one person to the next and hope you don’t get caught in a trap. What kind of trap? Well, many if not most networking events are populated with two types of people: those looking a job (like you–in other words, competition), and founders and small business owners who are there to … well, to network. They’re not looking for employees so much as trade partners.

Of course, there are also the folks simply there to sell you something, but I don’t even count those.

The odds of a person finding a job in that kind of loud, chaotic madhouse are slim. Which, again, is not to say they are useless: you will be able to pass out business cards to people who may pass them along to others, and eventually the right card may end up in the hands of someone looking to hire.

It’s better than nothing. But if you’re in “failure is not an option” mode, it’s a far cry from efficient.

Networking events are built around quantity: get everyone in one place, you dramatically increase the odds of making a connection. But there’s also something to be said for quality, like connecting with the right person. Personally, I’ve had much better luck building relationships over coffee than over a loudspeaker–which is about what you have to use to get heard in a big event.

Making valuable connections is important. But for job-seekers, networking mixers aren’t necessarily the best approach. Try distinguishing yourself in the market, first: deliver something of value, even if it is as simple as an informative post that offers information in your industry. Create a demand for your time and talents, so that people have some idea why they should care about connecting with you.

Networking events serve a purpose, but they haven’t worked for me, or at least not as well as other methods. Don’t completely write them off, but don’t default to going to networking events just because they’re there. Think carefully about the tradeoffs, and decide if it’s worth it.