First, weekly, scour your local Business Journal and go to the “events” tab at the top of the digital version or the events section in the print edition. Second, go to local industry associations’ websites to find their events as well. Another great website for general networking opportunities is Eventbrite.com.
Now, the real key is what you DO at the events so here are a few recommendations:
Be the first to arrive. Arrive at the beginning so you can meet as many people as possible, including people who work for the event since they are often well connected.
Have a single goal statement that you repeat throughout the night. “Nice to meet you. I’m here because I am looking confidentially for an outside sales position in the packaged goods industry. Do you happen to know of someone I should meet with?”
Have business cards. Because you don’t want your current company to know you are looking, don’t use your company card. Use personal cards with your contact information – name, phone (not your company number), address, e-mail, and LinkedIn URL. Feel free to add a picture so any one you meet will be able to remember you.
Take notes of everyone you meet and what was said. Do not try to commit this to memory! To do this, you need your hands free. So, ladies, just a small purse, a pen, and small pad. Men, a pen and small pad, check your coat and briefcase at the door. Be ready to shake hands, exchange business cards, and take notes.
Be bold. Walk up to groups of people who are already talking, smile and listen. They will bring you in or jump in when the opportunity arises. No excuse for you introverts out there; you are great networkers.
Talk less, listen more. You will be following up with them, so don’t try to jam in a lengthy conversation, don’t dominate, and stop the “I, I, I, me, me, me.”
After the event, follow up with an e-mail within 24 hours. Add each name to your contacts and save the notes you made in the “notes” section of the contact form. Be sure to capture the date and name of event where you met; it will come in handy later. Now, stay in touch, ask for follow up meetings, and build long term, 2-way relationships. Anything short of that is “using” them for your job search purposes. Bad form.
For confidential job seekers, be sure you learn about the security settings in LinkedIn so all of your “connections” and updates are not broadcast out to your peers. Most importantly, be sure to communicate to your new contacts that you are on a confidential career change journey. They will respect that.
Remember, whether you are searching for a job or not, keep your LinkedIn profile current and up to date and continue to add new connections!