From silly name tags, to soggy hors d’oeuvres and painful handshakes, the thought of going to a traditional networking event can be an unpleasant one. But getting your face in front of potential clients, applicants and peers not only aids your recruiting efforts, it can give you an edge over your competitors whether you’re a newbie or a veteran.
Networking = recruitment success
What separates high-performing recruiters from the rest? One answer is the access they have to key people and organisations. Let’s say you don’t know where to start when a challenging job order comes in. Being able to access those key people in a short period can give you an advantage over a rival consultant who’s been given the same assignment. That means you can close the deal faster. Going to networking events can build your brand and your contact list so you’ll know who to call when the need arises.
Ben Tanswell is a Talent Acquisition Manager at Arq Group who works in the tech sector. He got into networking five years ago when he first started recruiting and still goes out approximately once a month to connect with the talent pool. “The best way to learn about what you’re recruiting for is engaging with people who are passionate and spending time outside of their work.”
Experienced recruiters can also learn a thing or two about emerging trends. Matt Woodard is an organiser with the Melbourne Recruitment Meetup as well as a Senior Tech Recruiter with Zendesk. He says people in the industry can learn best practices at networking events. “We’ve done great sessions about bias, personal branding, diversity and inclusion, and the changing tool kit of a recruiter.” His group tries to bring in speakers who can provide takeaways for agency and internal recruiters.
Professional meet and greets have been linked to salary growth over time. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology reveals ties between networking and job satisfaction. Learning how to rub elbows effectively improves your reputation and enhances your social capital, which can lead to more promotions. So you’re not only making more money as a result of networking, but you’re also happier and producing better quality placements. Win-win-win!
Get over your insecurities
The thought of going to an industry event and sifting through dozens of business cards discourages some people, and that’s a challenge for organisers. But you don’t need to be the life of the party to put yourself out there.
Andrea Kirby with The Recruitment Events Co. holds learning sessions for in-house recruiters, mostly in Sydney and Melbourne. She created the company after returning to Australia from the U.K. four years ago. One hurdle has been getting people comfortable with the unknown. She suggests taking a moment to look around the room to find someone you want to talk to. “Bite the bullet,” she advises. “You’ll make a connection.”
The Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association Australia & New Zealand (RCSA) hosts pop-ups, workshops, and an annual awards night. Marketing and Communications Manager John Towey oversees events and says a lot has changed since he first came onto the scene. “Back in 2010, the focus was probably more of what I would call a traditional networking style … your hotel lobby with a name tag, something quite formal that feels a bit stuffy. Whereas over the years, our focus has been on something a bit more cutting edge.” The vibe now is welcoming and casual. He suggests recruiters attend networking events at least every quarter.
Researchers at Harvard University have found that you can overcome an aversion to networking. If you keep an open mind about potential opportunities, you can actually learn to love the process. Kirby agrees – try to learn something new, but don’t let that be your focus. Identify common interests you may have with the people you’re meeting, think about what you can offer them, and have a primary goal as to why you’re there. Pretty soon you’ll be excited about the prospect of networking events.
Burst the social media bubble
LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are changing the way people interact. But there can be drawbacks to online-only relationships. Scientists in the Netherlands have found social networking sites can’t substitute real-life connections. Getting physically close to someone is important because of nonverbal cues we use to communicate, like hand gestures.
This same theme came up about a year ago at an event Woodard attended. Are recruiters going to be replaced by technology? The resounding answer was no. While automation is helping consultants save time on things like data entry, it’s giving them more time to focus on clients as well as candidates.
Tanswell says to stand out, it’s important to physically meet people outside of the office. “In this day and age, you can sit there and wait for applicants to come in, you can reach out on LinkedIn, you can use all the same tools as everyone else does. But the really successful recruiters that I’ve met and I know are very involved in events.”
Even though young people have a reputation for being glued to their smartphones, it’s important to communicate with young applicants face-to-face. As Gen Z continue to enter the workforce, they are expected to alter the search landscape. These go-getters will change careers more frequently; a survey from LinkedIn finds Gen Z are 3x more likely to switch jobs than their older counterparts. Talking to them in-person and coaching them is something they crave.
Listen and learn
When it comes to networking, the old saying is true: there’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you ask people about their work and are honest about why you’re there, they will open up and share insights. Don’t go into an event looking to sell. Woodard says it’ll put people off straight away. “Go in with an open mind … if you end up doing business, that should come organically through the relationship.”
You will start to meet people who are really good at what they do. No recruiter’s process is perfect and everyone does things differently. Pick and choose what works for you.
Remember: you’re part of a community
Most recruiters are incredibly welcoming. Tanswell says if you’re really feeling anxious about not knowing anyone, bring a friend. At least you’ll be comfortable with one person in the room. After you meet a few people, you’ll start to feel like you’re a part of a support network. Before long, you’ll be sharing your own experiences.
John Towey from the RCSA advises against leaving early because some of the best connections are made at the end of the night. And if you feel like your first event wasn’t successful, don’t give up. Cultivate the relationships you do make, even if it’s with just one person in the beginning. That one acquaintance could pay off big time down the road.
Recruiters interested in networking should check out our events page.