When Networking Isn’t Networking

Networking Events Does Not Equal NetworkingI was chatting with a networking buddy about going to a formal, weekly networking event designed to meet the needs of professionals in transition when he said something profound:

Don’t confuse going to a networking function with real networking.

That made me think about my networking efforts over the last year (since I got laid off). There are different types of events that I’ve been to – I’ll list the ones I can remember here and any thoughts about the value of each one. The point is – pick your events carefully! Not all networking “functions” are the same! I hope that this list gives you ideas of how to find events that are useful to you:

Weekly professionals-in-transition network meetings: This is a church-sponsored weekly event (there are three locations close to my house) – and like the Between Jobs Ministry in Houston, it doesn’t matter what religion you are (or aren’t). The style varies by location but overall these are excellent events. It really started getting valuable to me when we break up into smaller groups (one place has groups of about 6 professionals) and we had about an hour to talk about specific needs of each person – and how we could help eachother. Everyone was actively networking and job searching in the community so there were lots of leads passed around the table. Very cool.

Utah Bloggers Conference: Last year in June there was a conference I heard of through a daily e-mail I get from UtahBusiness.com. I seriously thought I’d be the only one there but by the time I got there the room was full – about 120 people total (some driving a couple of hours to get there). It was an awesome conference and I developed some relationships that continue to this day – it was great to be in a setting where people weren’t looking for a job! Supposedly there’s another one in March and I’ll definitely be there!

Rocky Mountain Affiliate Marketing Association: I was invited by my friend Janet Meiners (Newspapergrl) to go to this association meeting with about 20 others. This is a group of people that make money by having websites that sell other people’s stuff. It was an amazing meeting (they meet monthly) that lasted more than 4 hours (lunch was included) – there was a ton of brainstorming, idea sharing, etc. Janet was actually looking for a new job and afterwards one of the group leaders said that there might be a position open at his company. Can you say “hidden job market?”

Generic Job Fair: I got an e-mail from some obscure website about a job fair that was coming to town. This was one of the first months that I was unemployed so I still didn’t know what was going on. I went, though, only to find a very poorly organized event. There were about nine “employers” and about 200 people with resumes in hand. No one was there to network, just be the first in line to pass resumes. I was looking for a higher-level position than what anyone there had to offer and left early, discouraged. I haven’t been back since.

Community College Career Fair: I learned about a local community college career fair and thought I’d go see what was there. I found a bunch of employers with booths who were mainly looking for low-level, low-paying positions. Even the recruiters that were there weren’t looking for anyone high-level. Again, I left early, discouraged. (I could have “networked,” I guess, but I wasn’t in the mood to network with college students that seemed clueless about why they were there)

Austin Blogger’s Dinner, Houston Blogger’s Breakfast: When I was in Texas a few weeks ago I reached out to some bloggers that I had relationships with to see if we could hook up in person and “break bread.” These were incredible events, very informal and fun. We had lots in common, and we already knew one another to one degree or another because of the blogs. Getting together was incredible and the feeling of “how can I help you” was abundant.

Salt Lake Bloggers Dinner: We started this last month after my trip to Texas. We had five people out and an awesome time chatting about all kinds of things – I think it went 3 hours! We are doing it every fourth Thursday (or is it every third Thursday??) at the same time, same restaurant. E-mail me for details. Oh, and I just read that the Austin Blogger’s Dinner had its second meeting with 16 people (up from 5 when I was there)… I think I’ve got some work to do!

Houston Recruiter Dinner: Not sure how else to phrase that as it was put on by Dan Sweet of FRACAT (that is “Free Resume And Career Toolbox”). There were about 10 of us at this dinner and it was a blast. It was really interesting to go from a blogger breakfast to this dinner as the dinner had people that had very different interests and needs. But the environment was right, and it was really cool to meet these other people. I keep in touch with a number of the people that went to this event, and having met in person made a huge difference in our relationships.

1-on-1 breakfasts or lunches: over the last year I’ve been to at least a couple of dozen one-on-one meals. Usually I’d pay because I invited. I would reach out to people that I had an interest in getting to know better. Some of these meals led to a rich relationship, others seemed to go nowhere (in my mind they are just nacent relationships, waiting to grow). But they were always awesome meetings because I got to know the person much better, and they got to know me. There’s nothing like talking with someone in an intimate setting for more than an hour with the sole purpose of finding out more about one another. This has been one of the most effective things I’ve done all year to improve my relationships.

Utah First Friday: This is a chamber of Commerce type monthly morning meeting where there is “networking” with name badges and everything! I met lawyers, realtors and small-business providers all trying to promote their stuff to one another. Nothing wrong with the event but the discussions were very superficial, and there was virtually no follow-up. I haven’t been back.

Formal Business Networking for-profit company: a few months back I went to a local place that has formal business networking for a free introductory lunch. Very cool idea, cool company, but it had a hefty price tag (if you joined), and was geared towards local businesses selling to local businesses. It just wasn’t for me – I met some very cool people but my business is not for a “local market.” I haven’t been back, even for the free lunch (and that’s significant!).

What are the events you like, or dislike? Any advice on how to find excellent opportunities to find new network contacts?

4 thoughts on “When Networking Isn’t Networking”

  1. Carl – I totally agree. Actually, one of my goals during a formal networking “event” is to invite someone to lunch, so the real relationship-building can begin!

  2. I find that things which are specifically called “networking events” are generally where my lowest quality contacts come from. Much better are professional development events in the industry you’re looking for work in, if they’re available. Symposiums, discussion groups, trade association events, etc. are all good ways to get your networking on, learn something news, and avoid the people who are desperate and terrible at networking.

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