How to Network When You’re the Youngest Person in the Room
Networking can be challenging, especially when you’re the youngest person in the room. If you’re in college or just graduated and you’re ready to get out there and network, here are a few useful tips that will make networking easier and more enjoyable for you:
Enjoy the Fact That People Expect Less of You
Think of it this way — the fact that you’re younger only increases your chances of impressing people. We all know those 4 year old piano virtuosos; if they were slightly older, people wouldn’t be nearly as impressed by them. You don’t need to be so young or be a virtuoso to be impressive. The fact that you’re getting out there and talking to older people with experience is impressive in itself. I bet you they didn’t do it when they were your age.
Practice your Elevator Pitch
There are a ton of articles and videos on how to improve your elevator pitch, so I won’t dig into detail. The main idea is to be able to explain what you do in just a few sentences. You have to be clear, concise and engaging.
First, practice it by yourself (for me, driving is the best time to practice pitches. No one can hear or interrupt you), then practice in front of family and friends. The first few times might be difficult, but don’t be hard on yourself. Over time you’ll get so good that you’ll be able explain what you do even when you’re tired or without caffeine in your system.
Over time, you’ll learn that some things you say work and some don’t — so keep mental (or written) notes of what those things are.
If you have a job, simply explain what you do. If not, tell your own story, what is your experience and what you’re interested in. It’s perfectly fine saying “I graduated from college X and studied Y, I’m interested in Z”. People might ask you specific questions about what exactly you want to do in the future, and you might not know yet. Yeah, It’s intimidating, but I can almost guarantee that they themselves didn’t know what they wanted to do when they were your age either.
Scan the Room
It’s normal to walk into a room and not know what to do with yourself — unless you are a famous executive or a celebrity, you’re most likely going to get this awkward feeling. Instead of just standing at the entrance, go get a cup of coffee or water, this is your chance to scan and feel the room. Once this feeling starts to lessen, go talk to someone.
You Don’t Have To Tell Them What Your Age is Unless They Ask
If it comes up, tell them — never lie about your age. If you can, try keeping it for the end; it’s always a nice compliment if they thought you were older just by the way you presented yourself.
If you can figure out what the dress code of the specific event is, do so ahead of time. Most networking events follow the “business casual” dress code. If you’re not sure, it’s usually better to slightly overdress rather than underdress.
Have a Business Card and Use Your LinkedIn
If you have a business card — awesome! If you don’t, one way to get away is to add the person on LinkedIn right on the spot. Stop thinking of LinkedIn as “Facebook for old people” — it’s actually an extremely useful tool that will allow you to connect and reach out to relevant people. If you don’t have an account yet, open one now.
Following Up is Essential
You had a good conversation with someone and you got his/her contact information — good job. But it doesn’t end there. If you want to get something beneficial out of this connection, you must follow up with them.
The simplest way is to send an email: “Hi , This is ___. It was a pleasure meeting you at [insert event name here].” Then add a summary of what you talked about, this could include questions you didn’t quite know how to answer, or things you promised to get back to him on. Ask them to grab a cup of coffee — you’ll be surprised how many people will respond positively.
Get in the habit of sending a follow up email to people you’d like to keep in touch with. You’ll be surprised how far it can take you. Again, you might not see an immediate benefit, but you’ll never know until you’ll thank yourself for sending this one email that could change your future.
Make sure to keep it simple and short. You do not want to come across as annoying or obnoxious. Your main goal is to show your presence.
Build Your Own Style of Communication
Most people who network often understand that in order to make good connections you have to be a nice person. Therefore, most of the people you’ll meet (but not all) will be nice. If a specific person left a really good impression on you and left you with a really good feeling, try to analyze and see what they did that left you feeling so happy. Feel free to learn what they did and adopt their ways of communication. The beauty is that you have the chance to mix and match and make it your own. Eventually, you’ll establish your own style of communication.
Not Everybody Will Be Nice
Ignore the rude people who give you negative vibes — it’s their problem. Also, you might run into some weird people at some of the events (especially the free ones) and this is the part that can get annoying sometimes. My definition of weird includes awkward or clingy people, people who say things that don’t make any sense, or simply give you a weird vibe. It might take you some time to notice that they’re weird. Once you feel uncomfortable, respectfully finish the conversation.
Speak Casually and Respectfully
Just because you talk to adults doesn’t mean you have to speak all fancy. Speak casually and respectfully, many people will find it refreshing.
It’s OK to Say “I Don’t Know”
You’ll encounter many situations in which you won’t know how to answer a question. Don’t pretend that you know the answer and NEVER lie. The best thing to do is to politely say: “I don’t know, but let me find out”. Then, respond to their question in your follow up email.
Even if you feel like you haven’t gotten anything out of a networking event, just wait — a good connection might come in handy after some time.
The very first conference I went to had nothing to do with what I studied, I knew nothing about the subject of the event, and I came out of the event feeling like it was a waste of time. A year later, I found myself interning with the same company that organized this conference and I ended up helping put the same conference together the following year. After a couple of months interning, they offered me a full time job. While this sounds like an extreme situation, things like this happen all the time. Just put yourself out there and good things will happen to you. The most important thing is being present.
Learn How to Finish a Conversation
Learning how to finish conversations smoothly is an art — an essential one. You obviously don’t want to be talking to the same person during the entire the event, that defeats the entire purpose. Some ways to finish a conversation include saying you want to grab some food or a drink, or that you need to go to the bathroom. But the simplest way is to just say “It was very nice talking with you [name], we’ll stay in touch”, exchange business cards and move on.
Approach a Group of People and Introduce Yourself — Just Do It!
Approaching a group of people is probably the scariest thing about networking, but you must push yourself to talk to people you don’t know. Even the experienced people can get intimidated by it. Of course, it’s much more comfortable only talking to people you know (and it’s more than OK to do so), but at some point, stop the conversation politely and push yourself to talk to someone you don’t know. After all, that’s the whole point of the event. The secret is to JUST DO IT. The fear will go away after a few seconds of conversion, you’ll forget it even happened.
If You Don’t Understand Something, Ask :”What Does That Mean?”
If you don’t understand someone’s explanation, it’s because THEY didn’t do a good job explaining themselves. If you’re interested in knowing what they do, ask until you understand.
I met a friend at a conference once and we ended up walking around together and talking to people. Whenever he didn’t understand something he would straight up ask, “what does that mean?” If he wouldn’t have asked it, I myself wouldn’t have understood what they did. I’ve adopted this simple question for myself, and you’re welcome to do so as well.
Listen More Than You Talk
People love to talk about themselves; it makes them feel important. You know the cliche about having one mouth and two ears so we can listen more than we talk… As cheesy as it sounds, it’s true. But don’t just listen — listen actively! Ask questions and show your interest. It’s a chance for you to learn and connect with people. Don’t only see it as an opportunity to network and meet people, but an opportunity to learn as much as you can. Be open minded.
Enjoy the Conversation
Have fun! Use appropriate humor. You don’t have to talk about business the whole conversation, talk about random things too — it’s up to you where you want to take the conversation. Just remember to have fun, because if you do, the others will too.
Feeling > Content of Conversation
The feeling you leave people with can be even more important than what you talked about and will determine the tone of your connection. Even if you feel like what they talked about was way above your level, as long as you were nice and listened, then you’re good. Remember, people don’t expect as much from you, so the situation is usually more forgiving.
Try to Give Value
One of the best ways to leave people with a good feeling and make them want to talk to you again is to genuinely tell them “let me know if I can help in any way.” Don’t feel obligated to say it though — it’s your choice. Since you’re young, it might feel like you don’t have much to contribute to them, but that’s not necessarily true. There are many creative ways you can help them, such as recommend one of your friends as an intern or help them out with an event, etc. The fact that you’re offering something is significant in itself.
You’ll Get Better With Time
Don’t be hard on yourself. If you encounter an awkward situation, let yourself feel it for a few minutes, then accept it and move on. Keep in mind that you will get better and better with time and practice.