If you had told me eight months ago that I'd land my dream job through a networking event, I wouldn't have believed you. I’ve generally found them to be a combination of awkward conversations, nerves, and sticking close to the friend I came with (and I'm an extrovert!).
But when I decided to change careers, formal networking became a necessary evil. I know some great people, but I needed contacts in my new field (which I didn’t have). Change requires work, so I decided to give structured networking a chance.
I learned three important lessons—and better yet, I got my job at The Muse by going to one of these dreaded events by myself.
Lesson 1: Set a Realistic Goal
Plans are one thing; follow-through is another. Especially when you’re working and job searching, there’s always an excuse. Having flaked on these events in the past, I used first principles thinking to break the problem down into steps. (Translation: Instead of relying on generalizations about these events and what they offer, I asked myself “why” questions until I got to the bottom of why I didn’t want to go.) I realized that I’d left past events disappointed because I didn’t have a plan.
I decided to get practical. My new, achievable goal would be to meet other women in tech and media. I’d get a sense of the types of companies where these women were thriving, and I’d build up my network in those spaces. This freed me from the “I have to get a job tonight, or it’s a bust” pressure.
With less stress and a newfound goal, I was able to power through exhaustion and a bad week to attend the meetup that ended up changing my career.
Lesson 2: Talk to New People
I know this lesson sounds painfully obvious. But even though the point of these events it to connect with new people, I always went with someone I knew—and proceeded to talk to only that person.
This time, I went alone. Surrounded by strangers in groups and pairs, I felt my lack of buffer acutely, and re-committed to making the night successful on my terms. While trying to find a seat before the keynote, I had a few brief but enjoyable conversations, and exchanged contact information with one woman. These chats were the least forced and most pleasant of my evening, because not being told it was “networking time” stripped away the urgency and posturing that often made the scheduled mingling uncomfortable.
The key here is to remember that people come to these events to have conversations. You don’t have to wait for the structured time, find the person with the most impressive title, or talk to someone who does exactly what you want to do next to be “doing it right.” But you do need to step out of your comfort zone, and if that means going solo, I highly recommend it.
Lesson 3: Send a Note
Once you’ve gotten up the courage to talk to someone, you don’t want all that hard work to go to waste. And if you never talk to them again, that’s kind of what’s happening. Make it a point to swap business cards, or if that’s too old school for you, connect on LinkedIn as you’re wrapping up your conversation.
This time, I went the business card route and an editor at The Muse ending up sending me an invite and note over LinkedIn. (Surprise! It was the lovely person I chatted with before the keynote.) I replied, with a focus on building rapport.
I wrote this exact note:
Though we didn’t discuss my plan to change careers, our conversations (online and in person) made me trust The Muse and its people. After a few weeks, when I felt ready to start pursuing new opportunities, I used the site for career advice and to learn about the culture at companies currently hiring in New York.
When I noticed that The Muse was hiring for its team, it just clicked. I felt comfortable reaching back out and asking Stacey if she would be able to help me get a foot in the door. She said yes, and now that I’m six months into the role, I’m so glad I went to that event, struck up a conversation, and followed up.
I learned that if you can be a little brave, show interest in others, and stay in touch; a single networking event can move your career in the right direction.