Mary Lorenz, CareerBuilder writer
What is it about networking events that make so many of us want to crawl underneath a couch and hide? Is it the anxiety of going into a situation where you don’t know anyone? The forced small talk? The having to put on pants and actually leave the house?
Love it or hate it, in-person networking is still one of the best ways to make valuable professional connections. But networking events don’t have to be miserable. Consider some of these nontraditional networking ideas – no “Hi, my name is___” name tags required.
- Set up shop at a coworking space. When you need to escape the confinement of your home, but your local Starbucks isn’t cutting it anymore, try a coworking space. A co-working space is essentially a shared workspace that’s more affordable (and less isolating) than renting out an entire office. It’s also fairly easy to strike up a conversation with someone in these spaces thanks to the open office plans and generally laid back atmospheres. Many co-working spaces will also host free in-house events or off-site happy hours to encourage socializing further. Start with one of these popular coworking spaces or even try creating your own.
- Get reacquainted with former classmates. Alumni events are a lot less intimidating than regular networking events, because there’s a much bigger chance that you’ll know someone there. If not, you know you already have a strong connection with everyone in the room. Join your college and/or high school alumni association to learn about (or suggest) reunions and events in your area.
- Join a Meetup group. Meetup.com is a social networking site that brings people together IRL based on a particular interest, such as travel, cooking, writing, meditation – you name it. By their very nature, Meetups are excellent networking opportunities, because they introduce you to new people and new ideas. The beauty of Meetups is you can “meet” and interact with group members online prior to events, which takes some of the pressure off once you meet up in person.
- Learn something new. Got a particular interest you want to explore or a skill you want to hone? A quick Google search should help you find adult education classes in your area. Say “yes and” to an improv class, try your hand at a painting class, learn a foreign language, or discover you inner Julia Child in a cooking class. Classes are the perfect way to meet new people because they force you to interact with others. If nothing else, you’ll walk away with a new skill you can add to your resume.
- Join a book club. If you enjoy reading and discussing books, consider joining a book club in your area. Sure, you’re not there to discuss career opportunities, but as you meet other members and get to know them, the “what do you do?” question will come up organically. You never know who you’re going to meet – or who or what they might know – and what new opportunities might come of it.
- Give back to the community. We’ve already discussed how volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and fill in resume gaps, but it’s also a great way to network. Depending on what you do, will likely be interacting and working with new, like-minded people who will make valuable additions to your network.
- Create your own event. Networking events become a lot more bearable when you control the circumstances around them and who’s invited. Hosting your own networking event, such as a dinner party or a fundraiser, gives you the chance to reconnect with old colleagues and acquaintances or reach out to people you’ve always wanted to get to know better.
When you get down to it, networking opportunities are everywhere – you just have to look out for them and be willing to break out of your comfort zone a bit.
Ready to get started? Check out The Amateur’s Guide to Surviving Networking Events.