Networker? I don’t even know her

Last month I went to my first ever networking event. Before I say anything, I should mention that it was set up by the university as part of our co-op prep (career prep) course, so I’m not sure how representative it would be of other networking events, but I thought I’d share my experience.
The best way to describe how I felt leading up to the event is ‘wary’. I had never been to an event like this before so I had no idea what to expect. If you’re reading this as a person who also hasn’t been to many of this kind of thing, basically what happened was that the night was split into two sections: a more formal networking session where we went to assigned tables and met with the person at each one, and open networking where anyone was free to approach anyone else.

Unfortunately I had a class so I could only attend the formal networking part. I met two people from departments at UTSC, a person from a marketing company, and one from a medical organization.
Overall I would say that the night went by relatively smoothly. It felt a little weird at first because it felt kind of structured and artificial? For example, we had ten minute slots at each table and when the time was up they would ring a gong. Or just the fact that we had all come to this event specifically to meet people, and we all knew that everyone else knew that too. But when it came down to it it was just talking to people.

I was a bit nervous because they’d told us to bring our resumes and prepare like we would for an interview, so I thought that’s what it would be like. And I guess it kind of was, in the sense that the employers there were interested in our goals and the kind of projects and work we were doing. But it was also quite different, because the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed in general and more like having a genuine conversation that happened to be career-related.

I think some people would say I was unlucky because I didn’t get to speak with anyone from a big company (there were representatives from companies like IBM and RBC), but I don’t really feel that way. Of course it would have been nice to meet like the CEO of IBM or whatever, but in the end it was nice to just meet people from different fields and listen to what they had to say. I met two people from UTSC, which many considered the least “prestigious”, but those conversations were actually the more interesting ones I had because they were very open and willing to share about how they got to where they were, and pointing us in the direction of opportunities within the school. For example, one of them had held a lot of leadership positions from a young age, and gave us advice on how to take initiative and become a good leader.

The main thing I took away was that when I allowed myself to relax and treat the employers like regular people, conversations became a lot easier and more interesting too. So I didn’t leave with pockets full of business cards and job offers – I don’t think that was the point anyway. What I gained was a new experience, some practice talking to people in a professional setting, and some solid advice and stories that I could learn and draw from in the future. Not bad for a first time!