How to Work a Networking Event -- with Theophan, Executive Sales Coach
You know the line, “90% of success is just showing up”? It’s not totally true (I guess 90% true).
For weeks during my job search, I simply showed up to networking events. Forget my shaky elevator pitch, I had no game plan going in beyond the flimsy prayer of, ‘I hope someone gives me a job’. I would go to dozens of events and have many interesting conversations, but not get a whiff of a job. Not even an interview.
So I sought the advice of a sales coach.
Theophan is the owner of Elite Coaching, LLC. He views job hunting as a business - your product is yourself, and you are responsible for selling it. There’s a science to networking events - and getting what you want is not a product of luck or random circumstance, but the result of having a process and sticking to it.
(Please note, the following bits are taken directly from Theophan’s coaching. I am just delivering the message)
Step 1: Come in with an intention
The question you must ask yourself before you leave the house is, “Do you want a job or not?”
It’s perfectly fine to say no - you may just want connections, or interesting, industry-related conversations with people you don’t work with.
Your clarity, though, will determine how well you perform at the event.
If your intention is just to go and eat chocolate bars, then be damned sure that chocolate bars are what you shall receive. The world isn’t going to read your mind and present you with something.
Step 2: Adjust your mindset
You are looking for something, but it’s important to be genuine. As in, you do not want to be desperate, or aggressive. People can smell it a mile away, and nobody wants to be near that.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, I’m sure it isn’t necessary for your survival (if you really need money, you’re better off with Craigslist ads than networking events). Thus, since you will wake up tomorrow and still be human, don’t take it too seriously.
It’s supposed to be fun.
In that, and this is the most important thing to remember - everyone is there with a purpose. These events are centered around business - they are not Socratic discourses or summer barbecues. People are there to get something, and this is the event they’ve come to, hoping they’ll find it.
Step 3: Dress well
Just a quick note here. You want to give an impression of professionalism, that you’ve got your shit together.
Ultimately, you want people to be curious about you.
Oh, and bring business cards. If you don’t have business cards, order business cards. If you don’t know what to put, just get some cheap stuff on vista.com with your name, e-mail and cell number. Trust me, it’s better than nothing.
At the event…
So you’re dressed well, your head’s straight, and you’ve refined your intention to something succinct and clear.
It’s a whole new ball game though once you're in the room. I used to jump into an event and feel like I was the new kid in the swimming pool - everyone is having fun, they all know each other, and I’d sit along the wall, sipping my juice box and hoping someone floats by.
My instincts then were to find another person standing alone and just go talk to them, whoever it was.
Not so wise.
Odds are, the person you’re looking for isn’t standing alone waiting to be talked to. The person who owns the company or runs the department is most likely chatting with people already. What I’m writing about is a targeted approach - you are looking for prospects, not friendly conversation (friends too, but remember why you’re here).
So, who do you think is the first person you need to find?
The event organizer, of course. If he/she isn’t easy to find, then ask the first person you see to help you out. Tell them it’s your first time at the event, and you’re curious to find out more information (which you are).
Let this set a precedent for the rest of your conversations: you are now being driven by your curiosity. Your following conversations have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the person in front of you.
Curiosity is how you avoid being the aggressive networker that makes people nauseas.
Once you find the organizer, introduce yourself. Tell them it’s your first time here, and pepper them with questions. Stuff like,
“So how’d you start the group?”
“How long have you been meeting?”
“What do you like about it?”
“What sorts of people are in the room?”
This stage of the conversation is called bond and rapport.
You are demonstrating here that you are a kind, genuine person. If someone thinks you’re a creep, or a hungry and desperate job seeker, they are not going to introduce you to their friends. So just focus on having a real conversation.
You don’t have to talk all night. I’m sure he/she has people to get to as well (we all do, remember), so look for a good time to pivot things. After you have a firm handle on what the group does, who this person is, you’ll want to say a little about yourself and let him/her know what you’re looking for.
“So, I’m a content writer, and right now I’m in transition. I’m hoping to meet someone who owns a marketing agency, or perhaps a travel publication, to find out about their business. Is there anyone here you’d recommend?”
If you are at the appropriate event, and not “Beekeepers of the City”, then you’ll most likely have someone to talk to. That, or something closely related. Once this person is pointed out, you will beeline there (no relation to ‘beekeeping’). No water, no side conversations, no pretending you need to pee so you can go to the bathroom and regroup. Just do it.
Then, it’s the same thing.
Bond and rapport.
“Hi, my name is Jim…I was just talking with Susie, and she told me you have a marketing business that I was interested in hearing more about. What’s your role there?”
“How long have you been there?”
“What were you doing before that? What’s your background in?”
“What type of work do you do? What type of clients do you have? Who do you like to work with?”
You are starting broad, and then moving towards the specifics. First you want to know the business, then you want to know their growth plans and needs.
“So, do you currently have content writers? What’s their day like? Are you looking to expand the business? How so?”
And please keep your mindset steady. This is not scripted, you are not leading somewhere, you are just getting to know this person and their business.
There’s a good chance this person is just as excited to meet you, as you are to meet him.
All the while, you are listening. You are not offering information about yourself. If you are asked (because most people are thoughtful, or curious, and they’ll want to know about you), then you will give a short and succinct answer and immediately redirect the conversation.
“I’m a content writer, and I’m in transition. How about you, what was your background in?”
Just like a sales conversation, you are listening for needs. What issues does this person have that you can help with?
“….well, right now things are really good for business. Our only problem is, things are a little too good. We’re about to start turning down projects, we seem to have more than we can handle!”
But you’re cool, and not desperate, so you’ll respond coolly with something like:
“Well, that’s great to hear…what sorts of stuff do you need help with? What do you need that would allow you to expand?”
“Well, for one,” Bob says, “we need help in our writing department. We have tons of work, and talented people, but too many topics to fill. Right now I’m doing both the development and the writing, and it’s getting to be a bit much.”
“Bob, I’m a content writer…I’d love to help you guys out. Is there a day I can drop off my resume, or maybe we can meet for coffee and talk about the things you need help with?”
What you came for? That just happened.
Now, you are just arranging how to move forward - maybe it’s a coffee date, a phone call, or you coming by the office.
You accomplished what you came for, now go and enjoy the evening. Go talk to the pretty girl, munch on the meat selection, enjoy the presentation, etc.
You should be feeling pretty damn good about yourself.
All that said, I understand most conversations don’t happen as smoothly as this. You may meet a person with a business you like, but hit a wall in terms of opportunity. You might ask tons of questions but not hear of any opportunities. That’s fine. Just because they don’t hire you, or they don’t have openings, doesn’t mean you ‘lost’. They may not be able to hire you now, but they may in the future. Or, they may know someone who’s looking.
It’s a connection, or it’s a job. It’s win-win for you.
Any thoughts or tips on networking that weren't mentioned? Successes or "failures" that you've experienced? Please let me know below!