Networking…networking…NETWORKING?!  Let’s be honest, it can be a pretty intimidating word- considering we are not all that handsome guy who is the life of the party, who always know the right thing to say and has no fear approaching anyone in the room.

Professional networking exists for two reasons.  One reason would be to make connections with people in your industry that can hopefully lead to a new job or internship.  Networking can also be a way to develop relationships within your industry to further understand your career and make genuine partnerships.  Whichever the reason, networking will inevitably be a part of everyone’s career at one point or another- if not throughout.

Networking can be as simple as striking up a conversation with someone on the subway, adding connections on social media or attending specific networking events.

When I began my professional career, I was forced to go to very stereotypical industry “networking events” by my first employer.  Although I was a fan of the (usually fancy) free food, I always dreaded this seemingly giant room of people, the majority of whom were at least a decade older than me, who already knew most of the other professionals in the room.  I would make awkward conversation for a bit and hope I ended up at a table with outgoing people who would make conversation with me, so I didn’t have to pull out all of the generic, cookie-cutter questions.

Thankfully, I now have the option of choosing which networking events and opportunities I want to attend.  I select ones that will be most beneficial to me and to Atrium.  I try focusing on events that are more enjoyable (that I would actually look forward to) and fit my personality well.  The trick to networking is being comfortable yourself, which will make people around you feel comfortable and (hopefully) make them want to get to know you. Some people thrive in traditional networking environments, while others would prefer a Meetup happy hour.

The biggest thing to remember about networking is that it is only as advantageous as you make it.  If you find yourself signing up for events and then dreading them day-of, they are only going to be a waste of your time.  Don’t get discouraged if you are put off by the first few.  There are many different types of networking events, so give another group or organization a fair chance.  Need to break the ice?  Have a few sips of wine when you arrive to calm your nerves, but remember not to overdo it!  You don’t want to be remembered as the girl who was slurring her words by six o’clock.  Always eat something before you arrive so that you are not too ravenous to actually strike up a conversation with someone.  That’s the whole reason you’re there in the first place!

Quick and Easy Tips:

Get a slim, easy to open business card holder.  Many times I’ve been stuck searching my wallet or purse for a card that usually comes out creased and dingy.  This is not the lasting impression you want to leave with your new acquaintance.

Within 2 days of the event, add your new contacts on LinkedIn.  When you send the connection invitation, be sure to remind them where you met.  These efforts show initiative and follow-through and also make future dialogue more feasible.

Be prepared with creative talking points.  Talking about the weather or the fried calamari on the buffet goes nowhere fast, but having interesting (non controversial or political) talking points about current events can really show depth.  Brownie points for hot topics related to your industry!

Relax.  This is much easier said than done, but hyping yourself up about introducing yourself to new people is just going to put sweat stains on your new blouse.  Who wants to shake hands with the clammy girl?

And finally… be honest.  Trying to be anyone but yourself is like auditioning for an acting role.  Being true to your own personality and sense of humor will attract other honest, genuine people and that is who you want to meet when looking to network professionally.

Amy Hudnall is a degreed and experienced Scientist who has found her niche in staffing and recruitment.  In a previous role, Amy was a contractor in a chemical lab for over 2 years, giving her a unique perspective into what it is like to work for a staffing agency as a contract employee.