I wouldn’t classify myself as one of those people who can walk into a room and meet people easily. Though I’ve been making an effort to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I’ve always been an introvert by nature. Unfortunately, as a business student, networking seems like an important skill to learn.
When I recently won a ticket to a networking event through an information session at SFU, I told myself I had to go. Luckily, the event was a “mingle,” a smaller, more informal networking event. In contrast to a large and formal career fair which would involve elevator pitches and resumes, I figured this would be a good place to test the waters.
When the day came, and I dragged myself out and expected the worst. I swallowed hard and walked in, vaguely recognising a few other people from the information session. Were they as nervous as I was? A few minutes went by, and suddenly there I was, talking with someone I hadn’t known only a moment before. The surprising thing was that it actually wasn’t that bad. At first, there was a moment of panic when I realized I should have dressed in business casual rather than my casual black pants, nice tank top and cardigan (oops), but it could have been worse.
When I started talking to people, I realized they weren’t the kind of cold, reserved professionals that I had feared. They were just people like anyone else – quite friendly and easy to talk to. I also found some common ground with some of the other students there who were also at their first networking event.
Towards the end of the night, after I had gotten over my initial haze of nervousness, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t the only one who felt out of my comfort zone: a couple people hadn’t ventured out of the corner all evening, and a few others had mechanically talked to and exchanged cards with every person in the room. Luckily, I’d managed to behave very appropriately and confidently by avoiding these extremes.
Though I can still count on one hand the number of networking events I’ve attended, these experiences have driven home a few tips that I wish I’d known in advance:
Bring business cards. It’s quite common to exchange business cards at the end of a conversation.
Dress for the occasion. Depending on what event you attend, this may be a full on suit or business casual.
There is no need to talk to every single person in the room. A few meaningful conversations are less exhausting and more manageable.
It’s OK to take a breather and hide by the appetizers with the other students, but set a goal to not make this your entire evening.
Even though I haven’t talked to many people since those events, I’d say it was still worthwhile. The confidence I gained from recognising I am in fact capable of walking into a room full of strangers and striking up conversation has stayed with me and transferred over to other areas of my life as well.
If you’ve been procrastinating over whether or not to attend your first networking event, here’s my advice: just go. Not only could you eliminate (or at least reduce) your understandable anxiety and hesitancy, but you could even impact other areas of your life. Somehow, class presentations have become less nerve-racking. If this still isn’t enough of an incentive, keep in mind that you could encounter very good odds of winning a door prize.