My senior year of college, I was constantly attending various mock interview sessions and alumni networking events, convinced that unless I picked up the skills and strategies taught at these seminars, I was going to be unemployed forever. Of course I was totally wrong. While these events were certainly helpful and gave me plenty of practice, there was something about memorizing my 10-second elevator pitch that felt forced. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty emotionally intelligent, and I realized that none of these conversations I was trying to pre-develop in my head could possibly seem genuine. If I ever found myself in a situation speaking to an employer of a company that I dreamed to work for, my gut reaction would absolutely not be to go on a 10 second rant about my career goals. That would be so awkward. I realized that these seminars were a lot like the difference between taking a class about a certain industry vs. doing an internship in that industry. While the class gives you the basic knowledge and understanding, you have no way of knowing what your strengths are or what your challenges may be, until you are actually in that situation. Upon graduation, I moved to Los Angeles, and decided that I wanted to come up with my own strategy for networking, that didn’t feel forced, and didn’t feel like work.
In coming up with my own networking strategy that fit into the world of Hollywood, I discovered my own strengths and weaknesses. I knew that my biggest strength was my ability to approach, and talk to almost anyone. I am not shy and I tend to approach these situations thinking, “what’s the worst that can happen?” I also knew that my biggest weakness was being brand new to LA, and brand new to the Entertainment industry. I wouldn’t know most of the lesser-known companies that people were referring to, and I certainly could not chime in (yet) when talking about the best happy hour spots in West Hollywood. I also quickly learned that people do not waste time with their networking in LA, and that networking is not limited to happy hour, but rather never actually stops. In a city where everyone is trying to get somewhere, the first question most people ask is “What do you do?” This can be at the grocery store, on a night out on Sunset Blvd., or in Malibu on a Sunday afternoon. Further, if your answer is not interesting or doesn’t help the person you just met, the conversation can end very quickly.
To avoid these forced and fake conversations while networking in LA, and since the networking never stops, here are some top tips from myself, and other young women navigating the same waters:
1) Be interested in what someone is saying to you. Even if it might not help you immediately, you never know who someone knows, or what advice they might have.
2) When picking a networking location, keep in mind the crowd of people that you want to meet. For example, if you want to meet executives, you should probably stop going to bars packed with USC students, and head to rooftop lounges instead.
3) Do your research! Know what’s going on with your industry of interest in LA right now. Who are the key power players? What are the current issues within that industry?
4) Always be aware of what’s going on around you. Pay attention to the crowd wherever you are, and don’t be afraid to talk to random people! Part of being aware, also means being aware of yourself – keep the drinks to a minimum, no one wants to smell vodka cranberry on your breath while you discuss the importance of universal Wi-Fi (if that’s your thing).
More tips, stories and strategies to come, but for now — happy weekend!