Skip to main content

We have 257 guests online

10/9/22 - How to approach in-person networking again

by Rachel Loock, University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business 

You’ve heard it before: If you want to move up in your career or find a new job, networking with the right people is critical. You can get valuable information on career paths, and you’ll be more likely to hear about job opportunities before they’re posted.

Building rapport with others can be easier and more authentic in a face-to-face situation, leading to more spontaneous conversations. But after a two-year hiatus for many in-person professional meetings and events, getting back out there again can feel new again, and frankly, a bit daunting.

To get started, give yourself — and everyone else — a break. It’s hard to get back to networking, especially if it never felt easy to begin with. Even if you’re back in an office, many casual interactions in work life still aren't there. So how do you push yourself to network and be intentional about it?

Know the goal. Networking is based on finding areas of common interest with someone and building a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s not just about reaching out to people who can help you — think about what you can offer. Are there people on your contact list who might be interested in a job you know about or would benefit from being introduced to one of your colleagues? Reach out, and maybe they’ll return the favor.

Make a plan and hold yourself to it. Come up with a list of people you want to reconnect with and set specific goals. For example, give yourself to the end of summer to meet with three people for coffee or lunch and attend one organized event. After you meet with someone or attend an event, assign yourself action items — like sending email follow-ups or connecting with new contacts on LinkedIn.

Start with something easy. Connect with a colleague you already have a relationship with, but haven’t seen for a while. Summer is a great time to meet outdoors, where it's easier to feel comfortable. Consider taking the initiative at your current workplace to plan an outdoor get-together with co-workers.

Grab a friend. Some conferences are returning in-person. That can be a great way to network, but if going to a conference alone feels overwhelming, ask a friend or a professional colleague to go with you.

Think small. If you're reluctant to attend a big industry conference, try looking for smaller conferences at less-crowded venues. Oftentimes, a national organization will have regional chapters that host smaller gatherings. And check out what’s happening at your alma mater for smaller-scale networking opportunities. Things like alumni events or regional professional meetings can be a good way to reconnect or make new connections.

Make the ask. When you approach someone for an in-person meet-up, give the person an out. Phrase it along the lines of: “It’s been a long time since we’ve connected. I’d love to meet for coffee or lunch, if you’re comfortable getting together.” But don’t make assumptions that everyone is OK meeting in-person again.

There’s always Zoom. If someone isn't comfortable getting together in-person, see if they are open to a virtual meeting or a phone call. The longer you let a relationships sit without any contact, the harder it can be to rekindle.

I’ve made my own goals to reconnect with more people in-person this summer, too. It's is a great time to get back out there, and you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.

Rachel Loock is a career and leadership coach with the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.