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students at a networking event
September 29, 2022
4 mins read

Networking 101: How to survive a networking event


I bet you cringed at that word. Oh, trust me—when I first heard it, I did too. Perhaps you clicked on this article because you’ll be attending a networking event, or you’re just wondering, “what’s the big deal with this concept?!”

I was a Commerce student. During my undergrad, I attended over 30 networking events, took workshops, and even a course on how to network. (Sigh...just Sauder things, right?) I guess I know a thing or two, so let’s walk through the basics.

Before diving in, let’s debunk some myths.

  1. Myth: Networking is terrifying because I’m pressured to present the best side of myself and I can’t mess it up.
    Reality: Networking is just having conversations and making new friends!
  2. Myth: Some people are just natural networkers, and if I’m socially awkward, it's over.
    Reality: Anyone can learn the art of networking; it comes with practice.
  3. Myth: Networking is sleazy because everyone is just trying to one-up one another.
    Reality: Networking is one of the best ways to collaborate and exchange value with others.
  4. Myth: Networking is only useful for getting jobs.
    Reality: Networking can be a catalyst for anything. You can meet new mentors and friends, and discover opportunities you never knew existed.
  5. Myth: Networking is only for business students.
    Reality: Networking is for everyone. And I mean e v e r y o n e.

Now, let’s dissect the process to make the best of your networking experience!

Before networking

Dress to express and impress

Find a balance between feeling comfortable and looking presentable (for example, you can totally wear your favourite wacky socks to add colour to the black-and-white tuxedo outfit you stole from your dad).

Note: Some networking events have a specific dress code, so keep an eye out. If you want to play it safe, wearing black pants and a dress shirt will always suffice. And never, ever, ever expose your toes.

Do your research

What’s the occasion? Are you attending a conference, a company open house, or a networking night? Do some research on the company/people so you can blow them away with your extremely thoughtful questions—and gain the most value from the event.

Prepare business cards (optional)

This isn’t required, but it’ll make you stand out!

During networking

Don’t be shy

When you get nervous, repeat to yourself: networking is just having conversations. People at networking events are there to talk to you—this is a place where approaching strangers is not seen as creepy. So do it.

Ask good questions

Good questions are…
a) not obvious (eg. Don’t ask “What company is this?”)
b) open-ended (eg. “What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome on the job?”)
c) Not solely career-focused (eg. “What’s your favourite place to go skiing?”)

You don't have to go in with a pre-prepared list of questions either. Conversations progress naturally, so listen to their responses and keep it flowin’!

Be yourself!

I’ve seen people pretend to be someone they’re not in attempts to impress the big bosses. It’s not pretty.

Just be yourself—not a cookie-cutter of what you think you should be. Being yourself allows you to a) stand out, b) hold conversations more naturally, and c) connect with truly like-minded people.

Be respectful to others—don’t be aggressive

Contrary to popular belief, networking events are not places to compete aggressively with your peers for the best conversations. Be nice to others—let people into your networking circle, don’t hog the whole conversation, and introduce yourself to not just the networking professionals, but to fellow students too!

Be mindful of the time

15-20 minutes is a good benchmark for an appropriate conversation length. There’s no need to time it, but do be mindful of whether the conversation is dragging on for longer than it needs. You, and them, need opportunities to meet others—so keep it moving!

Exit nicely

Getting stuck in a networking circle doesn’t feel good, but it happens. Some ways you can exit are…

a) Ask them if they would like a cup of water, which you can grab for them and nicely wrap up the convo.

b) Wait for a conversation pause, and kindly thank them for their time. Mention that you enjoyed the convo, but would love the chance to meet others. Get their contact info and...

Keep in touch!

Felt a real connection and want to stay connected? Say this:

“It was such a pleasure to meet you! I would love to stay in touch. Can we exchange business cards/emails/get connected on LinkedIn?”

After networking

Follow up

Following up is key to being remembered—it’s so simple, yet not many people do it. Whether through email or LinkedIn, send them a short and sweet message within 24 hours of meeting to say thanks. If you want to continue the convo, don’t hesitate to ask them for a coffee chat!

Reflect for next time

“Hmm, okay, that wasn’t so bad,” you can say to yourself as you reflect fondly on the memory of being in a stuffy room with 100 strangers and talking until you’re mentally depleted. Just kidding.

Time to practice!

Here’s a golden opportunity to practice these tips: the Career Fair is coming up on October 6!

Remember: Networking is simply having conversations, and conversations spark endless possibilities. Don’t miss out!