‘It’s not what you know it’s who you know.’
How many times have you heard that truism? We all know that networking can be beneficial to your career. There are also an increasing number of LGBT groups for professionals that offer opportunities to meet and mingle with like-minded peers.
However, not everyone finds networking, or indeed any sort of socializing with strangers, to be easy. If you’re shy or introverted, the very notion can fill you with anxiety. And knocking back glass after glass of alcohol is not guaranteed to leave a good impression.
How do you introduce yourself? What questions should you have in the back of your mind? We asked for advice from some LGBTI people with vast experience of networking.
Selisse Berry, CEO and founder of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
‘When people talk about working a room, often it can be easy to latch on to one person and spend the next 40 minutes talking to them. It’s important to try and meet as many people as possible.
‘Offer them your business card and, if possible, get a business card in return. I think it’s important to then follow up, especially if you’re looking for work or there’s a reason to get together. Meet up for a coffee or an informational interview, and be very out about that, because it’s hard in those settings to have those deeper conversations.
‘Obviously, if there are people from lots of different companies, find out where they’re from and what they do. Other questions can include: where did they grow up; where are they travelling next; do they have a vacation planned, and I find everyone loves to talk about their favorite restaurant.
‘We tend to think, “Oh ,this person won’t want to talk to me,” but people are people, and they’re thinking the same thing. Give yourself a little bit of a pep talk and put yourself out there.’
Suki Sandhu, Founder of LGBT business power list OUTstanding and recruitment company Audeliss
‘Networking can be a daunting prospect, but these tips never fail to make me feel event-ready:
- Approach the event with a positive mindset. If you believe it will go well, then it probably will.
- Dress for success. If you’re comfortable with your outfit choice, you’ll ooze confidence.
- Don’t be afraid to approach groups. Everyone is there to network, so they are expecting to meet new people.
- People like talking about themselves – so if you ask who they are, where they work and what they’ve enjoyed about the event, you’ll always break the ice.
Simon Gage, co-owner of gay networking group, Jake
‘Keep in mind that ‘networking’ basically means “meeting new people”. That’s it. You’re finding out if you have things in common, if you share a sense of humor, if you work in the same field.
‘Think of it as making new friends rather than business contacts because even if someone isn’t in the same field as you, that doesn’t mean that, if you become friendly, you can’t point each other in the right direction.
‘There’s nothing more off-putting than meeting people at networking events who come in hard and, when they find out you’re of no immediate use to them, move on to their next victim. It’s rude and, to be honest, a bit speed-date-y.
‘If you’re nervous at events like this, have a little script in your head to warm things up before you get down to business: “Hey, have you been to this before? How did you find it? Nice venue, isn’t it? Everyone seems really friendly. I don’t think much of this wine though, do you? So, what sort of business are you in? Oh, really? I’ve always thought that sounded interesting? How did you get into that?”
‘If there’s really no point in talking to this person all night, at least you’ve come over as someone worth knowing and, you never know, if you make a good impression, the next time that person is at a dinner party and someone says, “We’re looking for a really good X…”, they might say, “Oh, I met this great guy at a networking thing last week. I think he does something like that…”
Adrien Gaubert, Co-founder and Founder of LGBT recruitment and networking hub, myGwork
‘If you are a social person, I’d advise you go alone to networking events and talk to the first person that you see alone. You then create a small group and more people will come to talk to you.
‘If you are a shy person, you can go with one of your colleagues or friends. As a group people will come talk to you. The risk is that you stay with your friend all night without talking to anyone. You have to go and talk to people. If your friend is less shy, he can ease the introductions for you.
‘Don’t forget, people are here to network so don’t feel embarrassed to go and talk to them.
‘Do not hesitate to talk to more senior persons when you are younger: they actually like people talking to them provided you are not too pushy – or appear desperate for a job. Keep it friendly and contact them after the event to have a coffee.’
D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of legal professionals group, The LGBT Bar Association
‘The most important thing to remember when entering a networking event is that you belong there. You have access for a reason, because someone thinks that you’re capable and prepared for the event.
‘In the legal world, it’s always safe to ask about someone’s area of practice. Also, as simple as it sounds, networking is communicating with people – and you can always ask them about themselves. Find out what’s new and engage them in conversation that clearly interests them.
‘It’s important to not only show up, but to follow up. Making lasting connections will help you tremendously throughout your career.’