The way I see it, work functions are like a battlefield. Honor awaits the victor with the best strategy—but you have to keep in mind the mines. Lots and lots of mines.

This is never more the case than at a conference or networking event. Yes, these events are strategic places to learn new stuff, to hang out with the experts in your industry, and to expand your network. But be warned: Not everyone you exchange business cards with should be your new best friend, or even your new best work friend. In fact, there are four creepers you want to avoid at all costs.

Creep #1: The Welcome Wagon

She’s that first smiling face you see, who practically tackles you with helpfulness before you can slap on your name badge. Taking your coat, she introduces herself warmly, shows you where to go, and starts asking you friendly questions. Whew—your newcomer worries of not knowing anyone are over!

Or, so you thought.

Soon, it becomes clear she knows everyone, and everyone knows her. But, as you find out from the whispering bathroom stalls while reapplying your lip gloss, it’s for all the wrong reasons. The social butterfly you thought would open the door to a room full of new networking buds has quite the reputation for buzzing cattily about everyone there.

So, what do you do? Mouth the words “thank you” to those bathroom messengers, then head back to the event, far away from the welcome table, and make some new friends. (Of course, you should still be friendly to the Welcome Wagon—you definitely don’t want to get on her bad side.)

Creep #2: The Clinger

Remember that girl in middle school you bonded with over your hatred of P.E. and your love of *NSYNC? You became fast friends, sleepover sisters, babysitters for each other’s Tamagotchis. But, when you invited another girl in your science class to tag along on your weekend shopping trip, your new BFF flipped out. Why? Because she can only have one friend. One.

Now, the friendship-necklace freak is all grown up and trying to couple up at conferences, keeping you from branching out into other networking circles. You met her in the lunch line and bonded over your love of Emily Giffin books. But, when you wanted to separate during the breakout sessions, she grew red horns and clung to you like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Do you and your career advancement a favor, and cut the umbilical cord at the first sign of her clinginess. Trust me—it’s the only way out.

Creep #3: Serious Sam

This is the guy that makes lame icebreaker games seem like a hoot. He’s a vacuum of fun, a bulldozer of laughter, a serious brain—and a serious pain when it comes to networking. Why? Because there’s nothing social about his 21 questions flying at you like a firing squad of Bill O’Reillys.

Yes, conferences are supposed to be an opportunity to learn and hone your skills, but 50% of your growth comes from expanding your address book. And, how are you supposed to do that when you’re pinned in a corner like a helpless kitten expected to answer questions like, “Where do you see social media going in 10 years with a new generation of kids having more advanced technological upbringings?”

Girl, you better pretend it’s so loud you can’t hear him, or answer his question with a funny, light-hearted remark while taking two steps in the opposite direction. If kept in conversation with him too long, you’ll lose valuable time with people you can truly connect with.

Creep #4: Paid Vacation Vince

Networking schmetworking—the only thing this guy wants to do is work the crowd. He’s here to party on the dime of his company, taking advantage of the free drinks, food, and flat screens embedded in the mirrors of his swanky hotel room. And of course, he’s the guy hosting the mad after-party in his room following the day’s last panel discussion.

Yes, and he’ll also be the guy you regret ever meeting when you wake up the next morning hungover like the day after Mardi Gras, wearing sunglasses in the building and stuffing your face with a breakfast taco while asking people not to shout when they ask you to borrow a pen.

You only get one chance to make a memorable first impression with your peers, so feeling fresh, focused, and alert is key. Sure, have a cocktail or two at the networking receptions, but when you spot Vince, feign an “early morning” and hightail it out of there.

Remember, conferences are battlefields disguised as ballrooms. Come prepared with an arsenal of avoidance tactics, and you’ll be ready for hand-to-hand combat with even the colonel of conference creepers.

That said, though they may not be your ideal networking candidates, they sure are the most entertaining—especially during dry speakers and monotonous team-building activities. March on, warrior.

Photo courtesy of photostock.

Updated 6/19/2020