Taking a Bite Out of Networking Events: A Guide for Beginners

by Sarah Marian Seltzer


Hello, recent graduate. As you begin to progress in your career, you will likely begin to be invited to various “networking” and “schmoozing” events. Some will occur after film screenings, book launches, or discussion panels. Others will be designated “networking cocktail hours” for “young professionals.” Whatever the context, such events are very important for your launch into the wider world, and your own upward trajectory! So how do you maximize your time at these shindigs? How do you “work the room”? I’m happy to say that after 10 years of attending such events in person, I can offer you some hard-earned advice that will help you really get every crumb and morsel of worthwhile interaction out of these events. So get your pen or your iPhone ready, and be prepared to memorize a simple checklist for networking success.

1. When you enter the space, scan the room.

Ask yourself two questions: The first is whom do I know here, and the second is where is the cheese table? Good. Now combine these two questions: whom do I know here who is closest to the cheese table? After you approach that person and begin to chit-chat, slowly position yourself, shifting your angle while you talk, until you’re within arm’s range of the cheese. Then put that arm to work. Eating cheese.

2. Now, define your goals.

At a certain point in the evening, you will have to commit. Are there hot passed hors d’oeuvres (if so, lucky you — you must be in a lucrative field). Do you want to be first to access such tidbits as they emerge from the kitchen, or would you rather maintain fidelity to the cheese table (or can you find a spot equidistant from both, in which case you are living the dream)? Or finally, would you rather be swizzling chardonnay than gobbling gouda, in which case bar proximity is crucial? These are all valid options, but whatever your personal aspirations are, make your choice and stick to it. No one rewards indecision.

3. Keep your elevator pitch in mind before you arrive at the event.

By elevator pitch, of course, I mean: how are you going to explain your cheese proclivity to your newfound conversation partners? “I didn’t have lunch today, I was so busy!” is the obvious, apologetic way to go. But why not project inner strength? “You have to understand that I’m something of a fromageophile,” creates a more powerful effect. Sounds fancy, right? Now you try it!

4. Dress appropriately for the occasion.

Keep it simple. I recommend a scarf, or even a full outfit, in the mustard/yellow/orange hue range, so that the cheese bits and pieces you inevitably get all over yourself will blend right in. Unless, of course, blue cheese, roquefort or stilton is more to your liking. If the latter is true, dress to flatter yourself and show up attired in a veiny, moldy, blue.

5. Be sure to tote plenty of business cards in your pocket or purse.

They really come in handy at networking events. In fact, here’s a particularly clever idea for how to maximize their usefulness: take your business card, fold it in half, and then use it to shovel errant cheese and cracker pieces into your mouth. Once the plate is empty, you can even leave a card in the middle, as if to say: I existed.

6. Always make eye contact.

Smoked gouda in particular demands respect, so don’t avert your eyes from that smooth, brown-coated wheel. Brie, being somewhat soft itself, really requires a firm handshake. Whatever you do, though, do not touch a hearty parmesan with a limp wrist. It will be the weakest, most amateur move you’ve ever made, I promise you. Do you want parmesan pieces flying into your future boss’s face, or do you want them inside your digestive system? That’s what I thought.

7. Command personal space.

I would argue that you should not give up your coveted spot to any of the other hungry young people nearby, particularly if that spot has access to Camembert or some other exotic foreign cheese. LEAN IN. Don’t leave before you leave. Should these peons dare to enter your space near the sharp cheddar, feel free to give them a sharp elbow. This move will prepare you well for a long healthy life as an avid participant in late-stage capitalism.

8. As things wind down, be ready to suggest a follow-up topic.

Here’s one I like use: “I’m still snackish, do you want to go get more cheese?”

And that’s it! I hope you will take these tips with you on your career journey. In fact, I’ll wager that you will not be able to get through the flavorless underpaid tedium of working life in the 21st century without this kind of on-the-level, practical advice from an insider.

Here’s one final tip: much of this advice works for weddings, too.

Previously: Dear Shailene Woodley

Photo via ceiling/flickr.

Sarah Marian Seltzer is a writer in New York City. Find her at @sarahmseltzer or sarahmarian.tumblr.com.