A consistent piece of advice you'll probably hear throughout your career is, "Don't forget to network!" Today’s networking events are varied, productive, and sometimes downright fun. And with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still with us, many networking events are being done virtually, so you can attend them no matter where you are in the world. Before you break out your party hat, it's important to have a good idea of what's involved in networking events, as well as the wide variety of networking options available.
In this article, we’ll discuss the types of networking events available, including:
What is a networking event?
How do I find networking events?
10 types of networking events
What is a networking event?
A networking event allows professionals in a particular field (or a variety of fields) to create connections with other people who may help advance their careers. A networking event might also help you grow new skills, or get a better picture of the job market. And networking events aren't limited to one type of gathering; events can be in-person, online, or a hybrid. Networking events may be hosted by a variety of organizations, from professional associations to private companies, or even colleges and universities.
Deciding which networking events are right for you
Before you can find an event that works for you, it’s helpful to figure out what you want to get out of it. Having an objective will help you narrow down your choices to make sure the networking event you attend will be productive and helpful. Some things to consider are:
What event type matches your personality? If you’re a bit of an extrovert, you might enjoy social events where you can interact with a variety of people, but if you’re more reserved, a workshop or seminar might be just your speed.
Who do you want to meet? For instance, if you’re looking for a new job, you might want to attend an industry-specific event.
What is your overall objective? For example, if you’re in sales, you might find an event that will help you connect with new customers or vendors, such as a local chamber of commerce event.
How can you make the most out of your time? Don’t bother with an event that won’t help you grow. If you’re a seasoned professional, for example, you don’t want to attend workshops aimed at entry-level employees.
5 Ways to find the right networking event
Once you've narrowed down the list of what you're looking for in a networking event, how do you actually find one? You have quite a few options:
Check out your local Chamber of Commerce. Most will have a calendar of events hosted by either local businesses or the chamber itself.
Do research online. Search for networking websites such as Eventbrite or Meetup, which will allow you to do a search based on your professional interests, dates, or location.
Create your own. There's nothing wrong with reaching out to people who are already in your network and inviting them to have coffee or lunch.
Talk to people. Ask your colleagues if they know of any industry events coming up or if they've been to any good ones in the past.
Explore your alma mater. Check your college or university’s alumni office, which usually offers a variety of networking opportunities for alumni.
Don't forget diversity
Networking events, especially in certain industries such as tech, tend to be somewhat homogenous. That’s not by design, necessarily: the concept of affinity bias states that people are drawn to people who tend to be like themselves. But this can leave underrepresented groups left out of the picture. When looking for a networking event to attend, make it known that you value diversity and that the organizers should, as well as the exclusion of professionals of marginalized backgrounds can have a detrimental effect on their careers. If you are part of one of these groups, consider joining professional organizations based on gender, race, or ethnicity, such as the Black Professionals Network (BPN), which often offers networking events and other valuable resources.
10 Types of networking events
No matter your field, experience level, or personality type, there’s most likely a networking event that’s right for you. Once you know what you’re looking to get out of an event, choosing the right kind will help you grow your network and assist you in building your career. And no matter the event, make sure you’re prepared with a professional-looking business card with your name, contact information, and any relevant online links.
1. Chamber of commerce events
As mentioned above, your local chamber of commerce likely offers locally based events like fundraisers, mixers, meet-and-greets, or business card exchanges, which can be a great way to meet new clients, vendors, potential employers, or business associates. If you attend chamber of commerce events regularly, you’ll encounter a lot of the same people, which will give you a great opportunity to develop solid business contacts. And if you're given the chance to showcase your business, you'll be able to spread the word to a wider audience instead of having to engage one-on-one.
2. Workshop events
Workshops are kind of a professional two-for-one because you get to meet new people and possibly develop new skills at the same time! And if you're not great at small talk, workshops can allow you to meet new, like-minded people in your industry through hands-on, group activities focused on a specific skill set or topic.
The main benefit of webinars is that you can join a networking event from your computer, no matter where you or the event is located. Additionally, since you’re not traveling, you can attend an event anywhere in the world for a much lower cost. Webinars can feature hiring events, meetings, online career fairs, or lectures and presentations.
Additional features of webinars include:
Opportunities to feature your skills and services
Direct messaging chats to get to know other event participants
Social walls are an online place for attendees to share their event photos, experiences, and thoughts.
Virtual socializing areas that feature small-group discussions
E-business cards to help you exchange contact information online
4. Trade shows
Trade shows, or fairs, are events that allow companies to showcase their products or services. Each featured company sets up a booth where they can provide product information, samples, and “swag,” and this provides a chance for businesses to meet potential clients. Often, trade shows also feature product demonstrations, presentations, and meet-and-greets. To get the most out of this networking event, do some research ahead of time and know who the event presenters and attendees will be, and make a note of the ones you would like to meet and exchange contact information.
5. Career fairs
Not just for college students, career fairs are good opportunities for job seekers to interact with companies who are hiring and learn more about them as well as what they're looking for. These are not usually small-scale events. Career fairs can feature hundreds of companies and offer a chance to interact with HR representatives. They also often offer workshops on things like resume writing and interviewing.
Career fairs are a little different from job fairs, however. While the main focus of a job fair is actually getting a job with one of the attending companies, a career fair is more about networking and getting information. Career fairs also offer the opportunity to build long-term connections with potential employers and opportunities throughout your career.
6. Professional conferences
Professional conferences are often industry-specific and usually take place over several days and include events such as seminars, workshops, and keynote speeches. While they do tend to be the most expensive networking to attend (as there’s often travel involved), the cost is sometimes covered by your company. If not, you can defray the expenses a bit by volunteering to work at the event, going for only one day, or attending online, if that’s an option. There are usually myriad opportunities to network and develop skills, and if you’re able to give a presentation, you can effectively showcase your knowledge and experience.
7. Speed networking
The main benefit of a speed networking event is that you get the opportunity to meet a large volume of people in a limited amount of time, and you don’t have to worry about approaching people to introduce yourself. The engagement time is brief, generally five to ten minutes, before moving on to the next person. This short, structured time frame allows you to introduce yourself, ask a few questions, and exchange contact information. You’ll want to prepare some questions and answers ahead of time, so you’re not fumbling to remember details —a short “elevator pitch” that encapsulates your education and work background is perfect for this type of event.
Questions you can ask include:
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Since you plan to change careers, what skills do you have that you’d most like to utilize in your next role?
What advice would you give someone looking to succeed in your field?
8. Happy hour networking events
These casual, less-structured events give you the opportunity to mingle with fellow professionals in your community, make contacts, and potentially advance your career. They also tend to appeal to a younger crowd who may not use business cards, so be prepared to pull out your cell phone to exchange contact information! They often take place in bars or restaurants after the workday is over, but don’t last so long that they cut into your evening hours. But remember — you’re not socializing with your buddies. The whole point of this networking event is to establish professional contacts, so while a little small talk is fine, try to keep the chats work-focused.
9. Alumni events
Alumni events, generally organized by your university’s office of alumni relations, are another form of casual gatherings or activities that may or may not be career-related, but that doesn't mean they're a waste of your time. It's a great opportunity to interact with fellow graduates and develop connections while doing non-work activities such as sporting events, lectures, art galleries, or cocktail hours. While these aren’t specifically work-related, you’ll most likely have the opportunity to talk about your career, which might lead to new professional opportunities.
10. Industry-specific events
These events can help build your professional network and develop industry-related skills to support and enhance your career. They usually offer expert-led seminars and workshops where you can learn the latest industry news and learn a new skill or two. An advertising design event, for example, might feature the latest trends in visual marketing, new design software, and workshops on how to integrate new technology into your work. In addition to these new skills, industry-specific events help you meet others in your field and give you the chance to discover new business and potential job opportunities
Don’t forget about volunteering. While most volunteer events are not career-related, it’s still a great opportunity to serve your community and meet new people to build your personal and professional network.
While networking might sometimes feel like something to dread, especially if you're not a "people person," it is vital for increasing your visibility within your industry and developing significant and consequential professional relationships that can boost your confidence as well as enhance your career. And with so many networking types to choose from, you’re bound to find one that works for you.
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A networking event assists professionals in a variety of fields with creating connections with others who may help advance their careers.
Before you can find an event that works for you, it’s helpful to have an objective to help you narrow down your choices to make sure that the networking event is productive.
There are a wide variety of networking activities, including in-person and online. Some examples include alumni events, industry-specific expos, and happy hour events.