Getting the most out of networking events

01 Jun 2023
James Hill
Head of Emerging & Global Markets
I've been with Clayton Utz for nearly three years as a Client Relationship Manager and I really enjoy the creative and strategic aspect of my role. When I'm not spending my spare time indulging in Aussie coffee and brunches, I can be found with mates at the beach or on a bush walk – and most often with a book. Happy networking!

Networking events can be daunting at the best of times. It often pushes people outside of their comfort zones. However, they also serve as a great opportunity to learn more about the people, culture and firm you are interested in. It doesn’t matter whether you're introverted or extroverted, my tips below are designed to help you find your own networking style and maximise your experience.

Face to Face Networking

1. Prepare ahead of time

  • When you receive your invitation, it is time to start planning. Begin by understanding who will be present (e.g. multiple firms, various representatives from one or more firms, HR/Graduate recruiters, etc.) as this will help you to work out who you'd like to target questions to. You can then complete research on the different firms/attendees to better understand who will be in the room.
  • Once you know who you're going to target, think about:
    • How are you going to introduce yourself?
    • What kinds of questions do you want answered?
    • Who is best placed to answer your questions?
    • Next you may wish to think about what to wear. Corporate attire is recommended so that you demonstrate your professional image from the start.
    • Consider rehearsing conversations to practice articulating your introduction and questions.

2. Set a goal for the event

  • A networking event may not be as easy as heading along to a social gathering. This is because you are there with a specific purpose, often to find out more about the firm and meet some of their representatives, often who you've likely never met before.
  • To help make the most of the opportunity, set a goal for the event. This may be wanting to speak to someone in a particular business area, asking the recruiter more about the recruitment process or speak to at least three new people by the end of the event. Focusing on the goal will help to move you outside of your comfort zone and maximise the opportunities from the event!

3. Survey the room when you arrive

  • To get started, it can help if you know someone at the event. When you arrive, take a look around to see if you can recognise someone you know.
    • If you do, this may be a good time to leverage any contacts that you have. These contacts will be able to introduce you to other representatives or to a key person you want to speak to.
    • If you don’t know anyone, don’t worry! There will be plenty of others in the same position. The first step is saying "Hello", met with a confident, strong handshake and smile.
  • Networking events are tough, and require you to put in effort to get the most from them. Try not to gravitate towards the corner of the room as you may find opportunities pass you by. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, remember the goal(s) you set before the event and take steps to achieve it.
  • You don’t need to be excessively formal, just remember to be friendly and open and be you.

4. Use active listening as part of your conversations

  • Sustaining an engaging conversation can be tricky, especially in a group setting. To maintain a good impression and keep the conversation flowing, consider:
    • making sure you don’t do all the talking;
    • be an active listener (listen and learn);
    • ask meaningful questions (see below);
    • think about using open body language, trying not to fold your arms;
    • ask questions to clarify your understanding;
    • maintain good eye contact, but don’t stare; and
    • don’t be afraid to smile and laugh.
  • Being prepared with some questions before you attend an event is handy and can help conversation flow well. Some examples of questions you can ask include:
    • Tell me about you and your career path.
    • How long have you been working with the firm?
    • What is the culture of the firm?
    • What made you choose to work at the firm?
    • What does a regular day look like for you?
    • Are you working on anything exciting?
    • What is your favourite work story/achievement?
    • What makes the firm different to its competitors?
  • Time management is key, both for yourself and other attendees. Be mindful of how much time you spend speaking with firm representatives and ensure that you manage your time appropriately and get the most out of the event. Try not to speak to someone you already know, as it's an opportunity to meet new people.
  • Food and beverages are usually provided at events, which means you may find yourself in a juggling act when moving around the room to meet people. Even the most experienced recruiters can struggle with this, so don't worry! When approaching a representative ensure your right hand is free to shake hands and doesn't have any food/drink residue on it. If both of your hands are full when you are approached, we suggest either trying to place something on a nearby table briefly to shake hands or a smile and nod of the head. You can always shake their hand after your conversation is complete and your hands are free.
  • Be mindful of your alcohol consumption at events. By keeping your alcohol in check you can avoid any potentially embarrassing situations. It's always a good idea to have a water or non-alcoholic beverage between alcoholic drinks to remain hydrated and alert.

Virtual Networking

Virtual networking may seem a bit trickier given you aren't able to meet with people face to face, but there are still plenty of opportunities to gain from it. Use my tips below to know how to make a good impression even in a virtual environment:

1. Prepare your set up before the online event

  • Check your internet and browser has a secure and stable connection – you don’t want to cut out mid-sentence!
  • Research the speakers and their backgrounds. Note down questions you want answered.
  • Wear a professional outfit – if your camera is on, you don’t want to be caught in your pyjamas!
  • Set up in a distraction-free environment – somewhere quiet where you are likely to not be disturbed. This also includes being mindful of your video background so it's not distracting for others on the call.
  • Remember to use open body language – avoid slouching, maintain eye contact with the camera/screen (try not to stare at yourself) and keep hand gestures to a minimum.
  • Place your microphone on mute, and only turn it on when you are speaking.
  • Connect at least 5-10 minutes early just in case you need to download extra software or trouble shoot any tech issues.

2. Participate in the event

  • Participating in the event doesn't just mean talking with the presenter(s). Once the event has begun, take notes on what information the speaker is providing. Have some of your questions been answered already?
  • If you are attending a virtual career fair (multiple people joining) remember to:
    • use clear and concise written communication;
    • be mindful of your language, including no slang, shortened words or emojis; and
    • take note of questions as they are asked to ensure you don't ask one that has already been answered.
  • If you are attending an event limited to a few people remember to:
    • have a brief introduction of yourself ready; and
    • ask meaningful questions and note the answers.
  • After the event, it is always nice to reach out to the organiser, thank them and ask them about the next steps in the process (if it hasn't already been outlined).

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.