My entire job for the last 34ish years has been networking.
At this point, it comes as naturally as breathing to me. My daughters hate it, but I strike up conversation with everyone I meet. Waiters, police officers, attendants at the gas station, contractors in my home, you name it. It’s just who I am.
As I look forward to another CorrExpo in a few weeks, I reflect on the importance of networking for each of us and our careers. CorrExpo brings together hundreds of the industry’s best and brightest to talk about trends in the industry, as well as the newest technology and systems from vendors. And each year, it’s a great opportunity to grow my network.
Whether it’s the first time I’m meeting someone face-to-face after years on the phone, sharing drinks with an old friend for the 100th time, or meeting brand-new industry contacts, events like this month’s TAPPI conference are an excellent way to network and advance your career and company, and you don’t have to be a recruiting consultant for it to benefit you.
Maybe you share ideas on how to solve a problem on the corrugator over drinks, and exchange phone numbers to discuss future issues that arise. Maybe you get connected with someone that can set your facility up with a better deal on starch, or with someone that can help you move up the corporate ladder.
I know two things on this topic to be absolutely true:
1. In an industry as tight-knit as corrugated, (my teammate makes the joke that it’s like the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with a whole lot less than six,) networking is a skill that you MUST have if you want to build a successful career. As much as many of us hate it, you’ve got to be able to network, and politic, to move up.
2. Being a networking, social butterfly doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
So, let’s talk about some tips on how to network at events like TAPPI:
1. Introduce Yourself
This one seems fairly obvious, I know, but for some people the act of walking up to a stranger and saying “hello” is the most daunting task on the planet. They’d rather be in Day 3 of an unplanned shutdown than introduce themselves to a stranger.
But, this is the first step, so suck it up, reach out that hand and say hello. Remember, they’re people just like you, and a lot of them are just as anxious as you are to be talking to a new person.
2. Find Common Ground
Everyone at an event like CorrExpo works in, or around, the corrugated industry, yes? So, if you’re there, you have at least one thing in common with everyone in the room. Use that, or find your own way to jump start the conversation.
For example, my Director of Operation’s go-to is always sports. He hears someone is from a certain city, and he’ll ask them how they feel about Drew Brees or Big Ben getting hurt, or how they feel about their NHL team’s chances with the season starting.
3. Ask Questions
If I’ve learned anything over my time in recruiting, (and I hope I have,) it is that everyone loves to talk about themselves. Even more introverted people will open up if you find the thing that interests them. So, I find that the best way to network at events like CorrExpo is to ask questions.
Especially if you’re not the most social person, by asking questions you allow the other person in the conversation to talk and share, taking some of the pressure off of yourself.
Why Network: A Conclusion
“But Roy! I don’t need to network; my career is humming right along! We have the best vendors in the world! My phone won’t hold anymore contacts! I have no career anxiety right now! (said no one ever!)”
That’s awesome, and I’m very sincerely thrilled for you. But can you guarantee it will be that way tomorrow? A week from now? A quarter? A year? A decade?
Especially in an industry like corrugated, things change quickly. Facilities change hands, cut shifts, or shut down entirely every day. Vendors close their doors or are purchased by other companies too. Often, your network won’t be necessary today. Good to have, but not needed.
If you still have anxiety after trying these steps, start your networking effort with me. You’ll undoubtedly find me on the expo floor, or maybe at one of the bars. Hold out your hand, introduce yourself and start talking. I’ll help you get warmed up.