Networking for newbies


Several weeks ago, the vice president of our agency invited me to tag along for a networking event with the Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC). It was a fantastic opportunity to interact with other local businesses and forge some new connections for our agency, made even better by the presentation from Gigantic Brewing, a new brewery opening this month in SE Portland. 

As the only young male in our office, I suppose I was the obvious choice to attend an event about the craft brew industry in Portland. Still, I couldn’t help but feel nervous most of the night. I took extra care to watch attendees and pick up cues for appropriate behavior. Who seems visibly disinterested or too aggressive in a conversation? Is it better to walk around or sit down with a group at a table? Do I stay with my managers or wander off on my own? Where do I put the nametag that keeps falling off?

Fortunately, I was able to answer these questions and more as the evening wore on. I visited with several potential clients and exchanged business cards – two connected with me on LinkedIn the following day – and found a seat with a table of older women for the presentation from Gigantic.

I’ll admit that networking events create a strange rapport between attendees. Although everyone was trying to be friendly and attentive, there was a palpable sense of salesmanship to every conversation. When we had all been seated and took turns to introduce ourselves, several attendees merely regurgitated their company’s advertising slogan. Others seemed too aggressive and desperate during our interaction together.

But there is a fine balance between friendliness and ambition. It may be a casual environment, but we attend events like this to forge connections that will improve our business. I’m grateful for the opportunity to approach that balance and learn from it. These events have so much potential – especially for newbies to the industry like us – and we will all be more capable and attractive job candidates if we can network effectively. 

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14 Responses to Networking for newbies

  1. It’s always a little nerve wracking to walk into events like the one you attended. As soon as you get in the door, you begin to question where you should go, who you should talk to, where you should sit/stand… etc. They’re awful! Sometimes the best thing to counter act your own discomfort and make your interactions with others memorable, be casual. It’s supposed to be a casual environment. So, be genuine and just tuck in mentions of your business where appropriate. I’ve always had more luck being remembered as that person who was so interesting to talk with and really excited about the possibilities in her field, than the one who pounded their business card into your palm faster then introductions could conclude. Great opportunities abound! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. shanabeet says:

    Thanks for the tips! I can see how it would be uncomfortable there being one of the youngest and newest members of the team. It sounds like you laid low which seems like a good idea if you’re unsure of how to act. This has gotten me more curious about these events. Perhaps I’ll check one out through the career center, you never know who will make an impact in your life!

  3. zolfaghari says:

    I haven’t been to too many business/corporate networking events, but with the handful that I have been to, I’ve realized some of the same things that you have. A lot of it doesn’t seem organic. It’s a bit of personal connecting with a lot of business driven focus. It sounds like you were pretty comfortable with the scene though, which is great seeing as how this is only the beginning of your career. Keep getting your name out there. It sounds like you’re doing some really positive things at your internship!

  4. Alysha Beck says:

    Great advice. I haven’t attended any networking events yet and am kind of afraid to because it seems like the interactions you have with people are forced. I’m glad to hear you were able to navigate through the event successfully and find a balance between selling yourself and being friendly. I think your tips will definitely come in handy since networking is so important when job hunting these days.

  5. Great post, James. It can definitely be super intimidating walking into an event like that and figuring out appropriate etiquette, who appears approachable and how to approach the individuals who are. That’s great to hear that you were able to exchange business cards and make connections on LinkedIn. I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind when I go to my next networking event!

  6. shannonsloan says:

    Great post. Frankly, networking scares me. I have never had an issue meeting people and striking up a conversation but when the situation is forced I feel pressured to perform. It sounds like you learned a lot from this experience, thanks for sharing it with us. I think it’s important to be sincere at these events and the relationships you forge will benefit from it.

  7. asharonson says:

    That sounds like an amazing event. It was incredible for your vice president to invite you along, and very wise of you for taking him up on the offer. Right now is the best time in our lives to be reaching out and networking with those in our industry, and in our area. It sounds like you’re on the right track. Keep it up!

  8. I’ve never been to a networking event, but I imagine it is an odd situation to be in. Obviously you’re being cordial but like you said every conversation has some salesmanship involved. Attendees are expecting hear the spiel, but you’re also trying to make a genuine connection with the person in case of future business dealings, seems like a fine line to walk. Sounds like you handled it well though, made connection and enjoyed yourself; kudos to you sir!

  9. Bree says:

    Great post, awesome advice! I wish i had more networking opportunities! I went to my first UO alumni event this month, and I felt pretty out of place. But It was an amazing experience. I felt pretty awkward walking up to people and talking to them about work. But I figure, the more I go to these events the more comfortable I’ll get. I hope.

  10. I can totally understand about not being sure how to act at a networking event. I went to the Alumni Conversations event a couple weeks ago at the White Stag building and I would say for my first networking event, it was a bit awkward. I’m sure they will only get better the more events we attend. I agree that while at these events its important to remember why we are there, and that is to develop and maintain professional relationships that will benefit both parties. Great post!

  11. McKenzie Ingram says:

    I think just simply obvserving during these networking events is going to be really beneficial for you in the future! You’re learning the appropriate ways to interact and react to people in the business world. Learning about yourself, and the way you interact with people is going to get you far. Simply having enough courage to attend this kind of event says a lot about a person! Good post!

  12. rkaapu says:

    I admire your bravery to navigate a networking event. I attended my first networking event pretty recently and felt like a fish out of water. I wasn’t exactly sure what I should’ve been doing and how to approach people. It is so important in today’s world to make connections and gain quality contacts but sometimes it’s just down right intimidating. Congrats on making these steps and forging ahead.

  13. pdxsx says:

    Way to network, James. Well played.

    ~J

  14. Allyson Will says:

    Events like these are always uncomfortable. I always find myself talking to myself or laughing at the fact that I am wandering alone. It is hard to put yourself out there or know whether or not you are doing the right thing, but you have to remember what you would think of someone if your position. If you don’t have the guts to be outgoing or just having a shy day it is always beneficial to just observe and take it all in! Great post!

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