For a lot of people, networking feels like a four-letter word. The mere mention of the term brings up memories of some reco-mandatory networking event your boss made you attend, or that a friend forced you to go to because you’re on the job hunt. Since I wrote Friend of a Friend, this is one of the biggest objections that I get to networking in general. We’ve all had those sort of uncomfortable feelings while at one of those unstructured, meet-up, cocktail party things. We know from the research that networking makes us feel dirty, especially when we have a very transactional mentality to it, and so we don’t want to go to these events.
But are they worth it? Is it worth grinning and bearing it and going to these events?
And the answer—based on research—is no…but also…yes.
In my favorite study of networking events—where they actually tagged people and tracked who they talked to—researchers found that people spent a disproportionate amount of time with people they already knew. On average, participants knew about a third of the room prior to the event, and then they spent 50% or more of their time with people that they already knew. This is despite claiming they were attending in order to meet new people.
What this suggests is that networking events turn out to be a great way to reconnect with weak and dormant ties. However, it also suggests that networking events are not all that effective for meeting new people. If they are an unstructured event, they are poorly suited for making new contacts. If you’re trying to meet new people, it’s a much better idea to work the fringes of your network, your friend of a friend connections. That is going to allow you to expand the number of contacts much better than hitting up another networking event.
However, if it’s the right industry—if it’s the right event—and you know that people are going, then this research suggest networking events can actually be a great chance to reconnect with your weak and dormant ties. The trick is to know ahead of time who is going to be there. Send them a message ahead of time. Make sure you know that you want to get some time talking with them to catch up and reconnect. Networking events are fantastic for reconnecting with people you already know. But the unstructured nature of them makes them pretty bad for meeting new people.
So, are networking events worth it? No. But also, yes.
It all depends on what your plan of action is once you get there. But you need have a plan of action. So make a plan in line with the research. Specifically, make a plan to use the event to reach back out to your weak and dormant ties.
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