Networking Tips for the Awkward Twenty-Something

Networking Tips for the Twenty-Something

I normally categorize myself as an extrovert but there are a few situations that really take me out of my comfort zone. *cough cough* Networking events. Most people I know cringe at the phrase. It invokes an awful after-work event in some random bar where everyone is forced to talk to people they don't want to talk to.

Figuring out the networking world post-grad has been a huge challenge of mine. I'm awkward, slightly naive, and stumble over every other word. I have had to work at these events and I still wouldn't say I thrive in these situations but I have definitely gained a lot more experience with them. Here are a few tips I've uncovered that I hope will help you navigate your networking influence. 

First and foremost...

Know you have a seat at the table

I have to say the hardest barrier is the one I put on myself. Being in my early 20s I feel like I am not taken seriously as a professional, therefore I think I don't have a right to be there. I was invited to this event just like EVERYONE else here. The invitation did not say must have 5 years experience to attend so I'm going to capitalize on that.

This is absolutely incorrect. I went to a conference and there was a speaker there that mentioned that he allows everyone a chance to speak up because sometimes it is the seasoned worker that offers up the good idea but then just as often it is the unpaid intern that has the ultimate idea as well. It was really refreshing to hear that some employers give the new kids a run at the mill.  As soon as you get this notion out of your head that people are looking down on you for your youth you will thrive at these events. 

Three and You're Free

I don't consider myself a shy person but these situations are just awkward, so I'll set a goal of how many people I want to talk to that night. Three is my usual. After that, I have a good feel of the room. Are people cliquing up? Is everyone just as uncomfortable as I am? Are some are just better at hiding it? Once I talk to three new people I allow myself to leave (unless there is a schedule to stick to). 

Storytime: I literally went up to a group of people and said Hi, I'm Jordan and I made it a goal to talk to three people tonight. They looked at me like I was nuts but then we all laughed about it and I got three business cards that night! I wouldn't recommend this in all situations, but if the scene is casual enough it could be a good start. 

Networking Tips for the Twenty-Something

Pay attention to name tags

Most networking events work in a way that one group is inviting a scattered variety of another group. For example, a service group may be the host and invites multiple charities in the area to pair up volunteers. The service group is the core group that will know the most people in the room. Odds are you are going to feel more uncomfortable than they are because you are the visitor, essentially. Find someone with a differentiating piece (usually a name tag) that identifies them as a host member. They might be more at ease to chat with you because this is "their home" essentially.

Ice Breakers really do work

In any other situation, I typically roll my eyes at icebreakers, but at networking events, I almost pray they have something for us to do. I heavily rely on whatever icebreaker activity they have. BINGO is a common tactic; where you have to go find someone in the room that "has been to Australia," or something along those lines. It's not weird if I go around the room searching for a fact that'll get me my bingo, and there is typically a prize! It's a great way to get a conversation started.

Don't bring a friend, make a friend

Chances are, if you go to these things regularly enough you will know someone there.
This will boost your confidence tremendously! The more events you attend the more people you will meet which will then eliminate inviting along a wing(wo)man from the get-go! This won't happen overnight but faces will become more and more familiar. 

I am far from (like outer space far) from a pro but I have definitely stepped it up in regards to professionalism at networking events. I'm sure I wouldn't be making Forbes proud with this networking list but I'm proud of myself and all the other young adults out there trying to hustle and make a name for themselves in their 20s.

Networking Tips for the Twenty-Something

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