From the Ask Isa inbox:
I am in undergrad and and there is a networking event in the area with attorneys. I want to attend but I'm not sure. Will it be useful to attend it or not?
I'm assuming you want to be an attorney? If so - definitely attend this networking event!
Anytime there is an opportunity to meet people in the industry you are interested in, you should go. Will it always be useful? YES. Though not always in the way you think.
Sometimes it may show you the industry you're interested in isn't what you thought. Sometimes the event may not be what it was advertised to be. And sometimes it will be just plain awkward.
For example, one time I showed up to a networking event for entrepreneurs (hoping to meet other young people who worked from home on their own business) where everyone there was 25 years older than me and just wanted to sell me insurance or some kind of weight-loss pyramid-scheme smoothie. But guess what, it was still useful. I learned something: 'entrepreneur' isn't synonymous with cool start-up.
However, anytime I've shown up to a networking event or professional association meeting on a topic I was interested in (e.g. education, communications) I've loved it.
The first time I showed up to a professional association networking dinner I got a job offer. For real.
And not because I was some special shining star. Most of the time (if you're a traditional college student) you'll be the youngest person in the room. And while that will make you feel out of place, it will also make you stand out; the others will be impressed that you showed up. Not a lot of young people do.
While every networking event will not yield immediate results, getting in the habit of attending them will pay off. Because you never know who you'll meet, what you'll learn, or what can come out of it. By attending, you put yourself ahead of everyone who was too scared to show up.
And when it comes to what to say, I found the best thing to do was to try to get to know the people putting on the event (they'll usually be wearing some kind of name badge and/or be at the registration desk). Ask them questions. Ask for advice on who you should talk to. Sometimes they will be so excited you're there they'll start introducing you to people.
Otherwise, just walk up to someone who looks alone and uncomfortable too and just shake your hand and introduce yourself. They'll be relieved you did.
And then you can say something like "This is my first networking event and I have no idea what I'm doing. How many of these have you been to?" Or anything else that expresses how you're honestly feeling in the moment and then opens up a question to them. You don't have to put on some fake "professional" self. Just be you.
Then, keep asking questions and listening. Don't be afraid to say (briefly) what it is you're doing now and what you're interested in, but focus the conversation on them as much as possible. This is a great opportunity to learn more about your industry and what jobs are like.
Then, exchange business cards and follow up follow up follow up. Email them and say how great it was to meet, mention something they said that you remembered, and then ask for advice regarding something you talked about.
I think one of the best things you can do for your career is to keep attending these events. Sometimes they'll be a bust, but sometimes they'll change your entire career path. And you'll never know if you don't show up.
Let me know how it goes!
Tuesday May 14th, 2013 update:
"Dear Isa, This is Confused (the one that asked the question about networking event). I went to the event. It did not turn out the way I wanted it to be but I was able to learn that what I thought of being an attorney is different from real life. Thank You... continue the great work and hope one day I can serve my community the way you do.
Not Confused Any More :)"
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