I’ve been to many events throughout my career, and in my younger days, it didn’t matter whether I made quality connections at them or not. If it seemed like a good time, I’d go.
Now, as I’m trying to upgrade my career and make more strategic boss moves, my mindset is a bit different. If I can’t truly find one good reason attending an event will help enrich my knowledge, network or future, I don’t attend. (This does not include leisure or life celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, etc.)
There are many organizations that host events under the guise of networking or professional development, but once you arrive, you find you’ve wasted a good power look and pump and probably should’ve worn a party dress or sneakers and jeans and left the business cards at home.
Who likes wasted time, especially when you thought you were in for a professionals mixer but arrived only to find very little professional networking going on? I know I don’t.
How do you know beforehand whether a networking event is worth attending? Here are three red flags to look out for:
1. It’s held at a loud, crowded bar/lounge/party space, sharing time with a “Singles Night.” Yes, this has happened to me. I’ve arrived only to hear Sean Paul blasting and see women in attire more appropriate for the club than a networking mixer.
Be sure to check out the location of any networking event you want to attend beforehand so you’ll get a sense of the vibe, planned party nights, typical crowd and locale. If you’re looking to really talk to people, make solid connections that aren’t laced in drunken slurs, and don’t want to take the chance of being hit on instead of being asked for your business card, it may be a good idea to skip an event at this type of location.
2. There’s really no clear focus or theme for the event. Organizations and promoters often advertise events via social media and newsletters, but if it doesn’t have a clear description as to the nature of the event, or a focused topic or theme, that’s a bad sign. Also, sometimes it’s best to stick to events that are hosted by specialized groups that fit the types of people you’d like to connect with (ie. a trade organization, fraternity, sorority, student group or nonprofit). That way you’ll know what type of people will be most likely to attend and you can even research who’s likely to be in the room.
3. The time of the event is during vampire hours. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but who’s really networking on a week night at 9 or 10 p.m.? No, really.
I always chuckle when I see a so-called networking event being held at hours that are not directly after work (ie. 5 p.m. to 7 p.m or 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) Again, this is yet another sign that this “event” is probably more of a booze fest filled with lusty debotchery, and the chances of you making quality connections (without smelling Ciroc breath and rubbing elbows with singles all night) are slim.
True, any go-getter who wants something bad enough can network any time and anywhere, and true, you never know who you could meet at any given event. However, if you’re being strategic about how you spend your time in terms of your career goals and advancement, you’ll want to really get a bit more picky about the events you attend during the little free time you may have between boss moves.
What are other signs an event is not a prime environment for networking? #SoundOff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.