June 21, 2022

Networking 101: How to Go From Lurking to Networking

By: Leah Nalepa

A lot is said about the concept of networking. But still, many people don’t like it, don’t understand it, or fail to see the purpose of it. 

A few years ago, I was at a networking event with several interns and one of them mentioned that he wanted to write a book titled, “Networking 101: How to go from Lurking to Networking.” I was intrigued by that idea and asked him why he thought of it in that way. He mentioned that he tends to be a “lurker” in networking situations: waiting for people to approach him or looking for the opportune moment to talk to someone. Upon a quick google search, I discovered the definition of lurking is, “[to] be present in a latent or barely discernible state.” As far as I’m concerned, not networking. 

But how many of us have been lurkers at one point or another? I know I have. It wasn’t until I was forced into external roles where I had to regularly practice speaking with public groups that I felt less intimidated to go up to a group of strangers and talk to them.

While we don’t have to enjoy networking, we should understand its intent. According to Merriam-Webster, networking is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” In my experience, many seem to consider networking as synonymous with using someone. I disagree with that sentiment. 

I believe that you can both be a good networker and not feel like you are using someone to get what you want. Let’s break it down. 

Consider networking less transactional and more as relationship building. 

In the past I’ve been told to “get to know as many people as possible” or come out of a networking event with 5-10 business cards. What purpose does this serve if I haven’t built a relationship with someone? 

If I’ve learned anything from COVID, it’s that humans have a dire need for community, and community is built through relationships. If our goal is to seek to understand someone else’s story, and get to know them on an individual level, we are more likely to build relationships that will last and that will be mutually beneficial and impactful. While there will always be opportunities where quick transactional information exchange occurs, let’s seek first to learn from others and how we can make a positive impact in their lives. 

Be introspective and understand your unique authenticity. 

We can’t build a solid relationship with someone else if we first don’t understand ourselves. Prior to entering a networking event, reflect on your unique strengths and talents, your interests, passions, and hobbies, your values. What can you bring to the table that no one else can? How will you find a role that fits with your strengths and characteristics, rather than trying to fit into a generic job description? What do you want out of your career, what do you want out of your life? These considerations and questions help to define who you are in conversation with others and create easy talking points when someone asks you about yourself. 

Have questions prepared ahead of time. 

Often times people go into networking events ill-prepared for who they want to meet and the types of questions they will ask. To alleviate nervousness and create clarity for yourself and others, prepare questions ahead of time. 

1. What do you do? 

2. Tell me your story and how you got here. 

3. Why do you do what you do? 

4. Do you have suggestions as I jumpstart my career or a new role? 

5. What skills do I need to get into X industry or role?

6. Do you have book recommendations? 

7. May I connect with you on LinkedIn or have a business card? 

These are a great start, but don’t be afraid to get to know someone outside of their resume. It’s easy for people to talk about themselves, so be sure to ask open-ended questions. Listen with interest, be attentive to their answers, and respond kindly. 

Be aware of current events. 

This point is particularly important depending on where you live. In DC, the vast majority of people talk about politics. But if you are at a sporting event, fashion event, an informational interview, or anything else related to your industry of interest, be knowledgeable of the latest happenings, trends, and changes in that industry. Having a general knowledge of current events also makes it much easier to engage in conversation with strangers since most people will be familiar with or have an opinion of the topics. 

Other general tips for networking. 

Here are a few other ideas to incorporate the next time you find yourself at a networking event:  

1. Use the buddy system

2. Eat first to avoid awkward handshakes with both food and drink in your hands

3. Place your nametag near your right shoulder so someone can easily glance at it during a handshake 

4. Ensure you confidently introduce yourself with a firm handshake 

5. Exit groups politely and do not abruptly leave when someone else is speaking 

6. Stick to the rule of thumb for drinks: 1 – 2 drinks to avoid sloppiness 

7. Remain professional in communication and appearance (you are representing yourself and your company)

While some of these points are probably familiar, it’s always helpful to have a refresher as we are increasingly going back to in-person professional environments.