Job Search Series – How to Work a Room (Full of Strangers)- Part 1

Building Your Socializing Savvy

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

Attributing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as from other sources such as the 2011 study conducted by Right Management, which is part of Manpower Group (Forbes, June, 7, 2011), career and employment professionals have generally concluded that the percentage of jobs that are attained through networking range anywhere between 40%-80%. The truth is probably closer to 40%, but that is still a huge number and indicates that at least half of one’s time and energies should be devoted to networking.

There are two fundamental approaches to networking: online through social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and offline through face-to-face contact, such as receptions, lunches, dinners, receptions, dances, socials, job fairs, informational interviews and a variety of networking events. A previous entry addressed online networking, specifically the premiere business site, LinkedIn; this week we’ll address offline, or in-person, networking and how to work a room full of strangers.

Networking events occur anywhere at any time and are be sponsored by companies, industry organizations, clubs, colleges, school districts, fraternities, sororities, political parties and campaigns, elected officials, embassies, churches, communities, and – well, the list goes on. When conducting a job search it’s important to attend as many networking events as possible because you don’t know where and when you’ll meet one or more people who turn out to be valuable contacts that can lead to a job or other career opportunity.

I’ve heard some students and young professionals comment that they feel awkward at such events because it feels as though they’re expected to “sell” themselves; and talking about oneself can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. But, the purpose of networking events is to meet people and make connections for possible later “selling.” And, two keys to successfully working a room are (1) to be prepared to speak about yourself conversationally (see the recent entries on preparing yourself) in a lower-key atmosphere than a formal interview and (2) to focus on learning about and making others comfortable.

But, for many it can still be intimidating to enter a room full of strangers with whom you’re expected to approach and chat. But it needn’t be so. This week and next I’ll provide tips on how to work a room with confidence and to ready yourself for prime time and some serious schmoozing, starting with the following:

The Invitation
Respond promptly (within one to three days) to invitations from individuals and organizations, and also advise promptly if you must cancel your attendance, even if it’s at the last minute. Follow guidelines on the invitation with regard to the RSVP, dress guidelines, etc. If you have any questions, contact the designated person or email address / telephone number noted on the invitation.

Know the event sponsor, purpose, background and something about the attendees and venue so that you can converse confidently and intelligently.

Dress Appropriately
Wear required / appropriate attire; pay attention to grooming and hygiene. Choose accessories carefully. Dress to make an impression just as you would for a job interview because you could meet your future boss at a networking event!

Arrive Early & Play Host
Arrive early and use a popular technique, that of playing host. After registering and obtaining your name badge and a beverage, linger by the door and as individuals arrive and register make a point of greeting them warmly and starting a conversation. Introduce yourself (Hello, I’m Joan Adams; I’m happy to meet you.”) You’ll have your positioning statement ready for when they ask about you. Once you’ve broken the ice, you’ll be on your way to mingling. Don’t be discouraged if it’s slow going at first. Some events will be better than others, but you won’t know until you’ve taken the plunge.

Name Badge
Wear your name tag on your right shoulder. This allows the eye of the person with whom you are chatting to see your name easily. Some badges are on cords that are worn around the neck.

Mingle Single
Avoid working the room in pairs or groups, as that can inhibit your ability to accomplish your goal of meeting and chatting with others with whom you might wish to connect.

Cell Phones, Smartphones & Other Devices
Make and take important calls and texts before entering the room where the event is taking place, then turn it off. Forget your device and focus on the purpose of your attending the event: to meet people and make connections. If you are expecting an earth-shattering health, family or business related call find moments to duck out of the room and check your messages and then return promptly. The only reason to pull out your Smartphone during the event is if you are in conversation with others and a reason crops up to look up something that is of interest to everyone in the conversation group. Never use your personal device inside the room for any other reason, save to call 911 due to an emergency.

Secret Weapons: Smile & Make Eye Contact
To learn why these are so important, review my entries, Your Most Powerful Secret Weapon and The Eyes Have It. 

Your Handshake
Shake hands using a firm, dry, brief handshake with your right hand. For more on the handshake, review my entry, The Perfect Handshake.

Be prepared to introduce yourself smoothly and answer the question, “What do you do?” State the name of the highest-ranking person first; mention name/title/relevant information. If you are not already standing, do stand when you are being introduced unless physically unable to do so because because of an injury or if you are pinned behind a table; in the latter case you should try to stand up halfway. Refer to my series on introductions.

Focus on Others
Making others feel comfortable around you and presenting yourself as an appealing individual with social savvy, credentials and skills can make working a room enjoyable. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people might forget what you say or do, but they won’t forget how you make them feel. By focusing on others instead of yourself, you’ll be able to work a room with ease and confidence. Just remember to practice active listening, don’t interrupt, ask appropriate and relevant questions and avoid talking about yourself excessively.

Next week I’ll address more tips for working a room, including how to handle nibbling and drinking while mingling.

Until next time,


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