What to Do If Networking Is Not Working, with Linda Van Valkenburgh

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If you find yourself avoiding networking events, maybe you need to change your mindset around them. It’s normal to feel nervous when you don’t know anyone who will be there or are unsure of what to say or do. Find Your Dream Job guest Linda Van Valkenburgh says that preparation is the key when attending a networking event. Linda also advises putting together a one-pager to distribute (rather than your resume), bringing business cards, and thinking through what you want to share before you get there.

About Our Guest:

Linda Van Valkenburgh is a certified executive career coach. She helps her clients plan, manage, and organize individualized career campaigns. Linda is a frequent speaker at networking and professional groups. She also has presented at the Yale School of Management and the University of Connecticut’s School of Business.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 191:

What to Do If Your Networking Isn’t Working, with Linda Van Valkenburgh

Airdate: May 15, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.

I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.

That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Linda Van Valkenburgh about what to do if your networking isn’t working.

You know you need to go to networking events. You think about trying a monthly job club. Or a happy hour organized by your professional group.

But you never make it because you’re not sure what to expect. Or how to make the most of the experience.

Our guest today says a networking event isn’t different from any business meeting. As with any appointment, there are three key steps in networking: preparation, execution, and follow up.

Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Linda Van Valkenburgh about what to do if your networking isn’t working.

Linda Van Valkenburgh is a certified executive career coach. She helps her clients plan, manage and organize individualized career campaigns.

Linda is a frequent speaker at networking and professional groups. She also has presented at the Yale School of Management and the University of Connecticut’s School of Business.

She joins us today from Danbury, Connecticut.

Linda, why do people struggle with networking events?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Hi, Mac, thanks for having me.

I think struggling with networking events is more common than you might think, be you an extravert or an introvert.

It can be quite a lonely thing to walk into a meeting alone where you don’t know anyone, to know if you have your act together, your materials together, your value proposition that some people call an elevator speech, or a branding proposition, so that the others in the room know how to help you.

It can be pretty intimidating at first. Especially for someone who’s going through transition or a job search for the first time.

The job search market has changed since 2008, and networking has become a major part of that and so many of us know it, but it doesn’t mean we know what to do about it.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Linda, can you actually look for a job without going to networking events?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

I wouldn’t recommend it. I find that networking is one of the strongest arms of a career campaign that you can utilize and once you do put yourself out there and you break the ice, you see that there are so many other people who are willing to help and know people that you may want to know at a certain company or at a certain industry. It really behooves you to go.

Maybe take a friend if it’s that intimidating but otherwise, that horrible expression that you might as well be cutting the nose off your face if you don’t go network, so take a friend. Make it a fun event.

Mac Prichard:

Linda, when you talk about networking events, there’s a popular image out there…it’s the airport Holiday Inn, (not to pick on Holiday Inn), but it’s that function room with the collapsible walls and the people in the loud clothing who are collecting cards, but when you talk about networking events, Linda, that’s not what you have in mind.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Right, not at all.

Mac Prichard:

Can you tell us more?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

There are 2 kinds of events: there’s the structured event, there’s an unstructured event.

I run structured events here once a month. As a matter of fact, this evening I will be conducting one, just about 5:30 pm. And I run a structured event where you have a facilitator who can organize the event, call upon each person in the room one at a time to make their presentation, so the entire group can hear and help.

An unstructured event, to me, feels great, it has its purpose but it can also feel like a glorified cocktail event if you’re just bumping around the room. And maybe you run into that person that you were destined to meet who knows someone at a target company you have, or maybe you don’t.

I think they both can have their place in your career campaign but when I think of a networking event, I’m thinking of something very professional, something structured, something that has employed as well as those in career search at that event. Even using industry association events as a networking event could help.

Yeah, I have a bigger plan in mind for clients and prospects when they are beginning to network.

A little research on your part, either through your department of labor, or the trade associations that you’re connected with, be it Financial Executive Networking Group, or the American Marketing Association, et cetera, you can find groups that are well structured, well attended, and have people there that you would want to know.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about both kinds of events, structured and unstructured, and you mentioned structured events; you’re a career coach and you run a structured event, but there are other kinds of structured events out there. An example that comes to mind for me are job clubs.

Can you give other examples of structured events, Linda? Besides job clubs and events that career coaches like you might run.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Well, there are groups on Meetup, you might have heard about, or Eventbrite. They might advertise some meetings as well. Meetup or Event Bright. Then, as I mentioned earlier, there are trade associations for your particular industry.

I would consider strongly about joining some of those associations so that you can rub elbows with others in your field that may be employed, or may be in search, or may have a great Rolodex on their LinkedIn profile that could help you.

But job clubs, accountability groups, there are all sorts of things going on if you’re keeping your eyes open. Looking at LinkedIn, even, to join the virtual groups on LinkedIn can be a wonderful place to learn more about what’s going on in your area or in your region, within your professional field.

There’s plenty to do if you just keep your eyes on the different groups and LinkedIn has become such a resource for finding out information like that.

Mac Prichard:

And you mentioned, as an example of an unstructured group, perhaps a conference with a social hour and other examples might include, say, the luncheon program at the chapter of your professional association, too.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

There are many Lunch and Learns that happen and I’m sure that once you find out, if you contact the facilitator, which I encourage before any type of networking meeting, if you contact the facilitator, they’re usually more than glad to have other professionals in the room that can add to that conversation.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well you mentioned preparation. Let’s talk about that because I know, having read your articles, that you think effective networking at events has 3 key elements. You talk about preparation, execution, and follow up.

What kind of preparation do you recommend? Again, we’re talking about both structured and unstructured events. These are things you need to do no matter what kind of event you’re going to.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Yes, well, I believe that for the average person, and I consider myself an average person, I’m not a resume writer but I sure know how to read them, but for many people in transition, when you see someone else’s resume, it doesn’t mean you know how to read and pull out the key elements that that person might be trying to communicate. I’m a believer in putting together a one-pager or a networking overview sheet and not use your resume at these events.

The one-pager would certainly give a little bit of your branding statement but it would also give just a couple of bullets about your expert-level skills, it might have a few of your career highlights, and then it’s going to have a space for what target companies you’re interested in having an introduction to or someone they might know within that company.

A one-pager could really be helpful to hand to other members that are at that meeting so that they can also use it to write notes on but have a better understanding, in human language versus resume language, of what you’re looking for and what you’re all about.

I recommend certainly having a one-pager ready, certainly bring your business cards and then, know what you’d like to offer, ahead of that meeting.

Would you be offering the group or individuals meeting for breakfast at the local diner? Or going out for coffee or something else, post 5 o’clock when everybody’s back home from interviews, or a trip into the city, et cetera.

Having your materials ready helps you feel confident, too, when you are passing those materials out at a structured or an unstructured or a job club type of meeting.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you mentioned the business card, it seems like a small thing and I was poking a little fun at the idea of someone passing out business cards at events like this, but it’s surprising how many people don’t bring cards. Why is it important to have one to share?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Well, I think it’s, there could be a stigma around that, too.

If someone’s feeling like, “Well, I don’t work for ACME company anymore, what would I put on a business card?”

This is an opportunity to show your style. Put on your tagline, put something clever on the back of your card that people remember. With great companies like Moo.com and Vistaprint and even Staples you can get a pack of 500 for $10. It’s something crazy-ridiculous, but you can have your personality come out on those cards with your title, maybe some target companies on the back of that card, and what you’re offering that person.

Meet up for a cup of coffee, “Here’s my phone number. I’m a CFO.” Or “I’m a managing director of content for an advertising agency.” Whatever it is, put it on the card and have some fun with it. That’s your personality.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, any other materials you recommend people prepare or consider bringing to an event, besides that one-pager and business cards?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

One thing I’ve seen on the back of a one-pager that I thought was great fun is someone put her grandmother’s brownie recipe on the back.

And I can tell you, that networking paper was still remembered years after that young lady had come to our meeting because it was creative and she was remembered and remembered fondly.

I had another gentleman put a picture of, not a real dollar bill, but something he drew and said it was good for one cup of coffee.

When people get creative with their materials, you’re well remembered. People want to reach out to you because you look so approachable and we all end up helping each other.

This activity of networking is really about giving before you get and it’s really about people helping people because job search can be a very lonely ordeal.

Mac Prichard:

What I also like about the 2 examples that you shared there was that those people were offering something that was actually useful, in addition to the information they were sharing about themselves. I mean, a good recipe is always welcome and the photocopy of the dollar that might lead to a cup of coffee is valuable as well.

They’re also great conversation starters, aren’t they?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Absolutely. We all need an icebreaker and with just a little bit of creativity and getting out of that comfort zone, we can all help each other.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, I want to talk more about what happens when you get to the event, whether it’s structured or unstructured.

Let’s take a break, Linda, and when we come back, we’ll continue to chat about what to do if your networking isn’t working.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:


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And now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Linda Van Valkenburgh.

Linda, before the break, we were talking about what to do if your networking isn‘t working and we talked about preparation.

Now, let’s discuss what happens when you walk into the room and as you pointed out at the start of our interview, there are 2 kinds of events here. Those more structured ones, like a job club, and then unstructured ones, perhaps a social mixer at a professional conference.

Take us through both scenarios. What do you recommend that people do when they get out of their car or step off the elevator and they’re about to walk into the event?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Well, Mac, I’ll tell you, I’ll take a half step back for one second and say, before that meeting, structured or unstructured, to contact that meeting facilitator. Because then you can let them know it’s your first time, you can see if you have to wear a certain type of clothing so that you don’t come in in shorts and deck shoes and everyone else is in suit and tie, you can find out how many people are coming so you know how much material to bring with you, and find out, here’s the question I love, is anybody else at the meeting just like me? Is anybody else in the meeting in my field?

So that the facilitator, when you do get there and job off that elevator and introduce yourself now to the facilitator and remind them, “I’m the lady,” or “I’m the gentleman who called you last week about the meeting.” That facilitator can now make an instant introduction with you to that other person she or he had in mind.

Or if you asked, “Are there other new people here at the meeting?” She or he could introduce you to a group of all the newbies, and isn’t that a nice way to get started, too?

So, that’s one of the first things, and what I wish more of my networkers would do because tonight, for instance, about half the people in my room this evening will be brand new. I’ll be sure to be warming it up for them to help them feel comfortable with the group as they arrive, but if the facilitator isn’t used to doing something like that, you can even help your facilitator by reminding them you were the person who called and you’re looking for a quick introduction to someone else who might already there that is like you.

Once you do get in that meeting, the facilitator has maybe passed out some materials, maybe a list of everyone who’s going to be there tonight, but as you start to talk to people in the room, and now you’re into the meeting space, have some questions ready for other people to help them to start a conversation.

I believe in having someone else talk first, and listen to them, and engage with them, and then, it’s your turn. This way the conversation is moving and it’s not monopolized.

The things you might want to ask a new person that you’re meeting that night is, “What brings you here? Is this the first time you’ve come? Do you keep coming back? What do you do?”

There’s lots of light and easy, airy questions that you can get someone to feel comfortable to speak with you.

Mac Prichard:

And, of course, that puts people at ease, doesn’t it? And they’re grateful for those questions, aren’t they?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Yeah, they are because they were thought about first and something inside will click and they’ll know, “Wait a minute, now it’s time for me to ask about you.”

Mac Prichard:

Good, and I love your idea of contacting the facilitator, whether it’s structured event or a more informal one, the organizer ahead of time because when you walk in the door, you actually know somebody, don’t you?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Yes, and that’s what I think the hesitation can be with so many new networkers, so that would help tremendously.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got a list of questions, there’s someone that you knew when you walked into the space. Do you recommend people get there early, Linda? Right on time? What’s your suggestion there?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Sure, well, another good reason to call the facilitator, because you can find out if they open the doors early and if you can do that, so that you can have an unstructured portion to a structured meeting certainly, but if it is going to be an unstructured meeting where everyone is just enjoying each other’s company, bumping around the room, you might not have to get there quite so early.

I like to give my folks some unstructured time before the big meeting and then, of course, after the meeting, there’s a lot of milling around because once they’ve been together for the last two hours through the structure, now they want to have those private conversations off to the side.

The facilitator might have something she or he can share with you so that you know what’s best for that particular meeting.

Mac Prichard:

What kind of expectations do you recommend the people you work with set for events like, whether structured or unstructured? Because often, do you find that people go and they say, “Well, that was kind of uncomfortable and I’m not sure that I got anything out of it.”?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Well, hopefully, there was at least one or two folks that, they came away thinking, “Gee, that’s somebody I want to get back to. I would hope that that happens and certainly, you could set up some coffee meetings but I also know that, even at my meetings, from month to month, the chemistry changes. Tonight, maybe I have 5 people that came last month and the balance is brand new or has come on a different month.

I would tell you to return to that meeting because certainly, there will be a familiar face in there. You could help someone else who is brand new and help them get around the room and feel comfortable as well, but there’s always something you could get out of a meeting if you’re open-minded and you’re going in, too, with some objectives.

What did you want to get out of that meeting? Was it one or two new people? Was it a new target introduction? Go in with some objective so you can measure on the way out, “Did I get many of the things, most of the things, or none of the things that I came in for?” And, “What can I do to change that the next time?”

Mac Prichard:

What suggestions do you have for listeners, Linda, about how to set those objectives?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Well, keep it reasonable, go in with your eyes open, ears open, so you can see what is happening at the meeting because if you’re going in expecting to get a job after the meeting, that’s probably a little too high.

But if you’re going in saying, “I’m going to get 2 new leads or connections or market intelligence or ideas for opportunities or new websites to go to.” That’s very reasonable.

That’s very reasonable and something that if you ask enough people in the room, I bet you would exceed your expectations.

Mac Prichard:

If you walk into the room with some specific objectives, it’s going to help you when you have those conversations bring them to the point that you want to address, won’t it?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Truly, yes. Good point, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well, good.

You’re perhaps in a job club or a facilitated conversation like the one that you lead and you’re meeting other job seekers and you’ve got that short list of 2 or 3 objectives that you want to address, or you’ve walked into a function room at an industry conference and you’re circulating.

What, aside from having those objectives and those questions at hand, what else do you suggest people do during the course of either event?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Remember that it’s not just about them. Remember that it’s a two-way street and that you’re listening to what someone else is in need of and that you’re willing to share because isn’t that what you’re hoping someone will do with you?

I suggest that when it’s your turn to listen, truly listen, and key in on what that person is asking for and keep the promise if you say, “You know, I think I have someone in my network that might be able to help you.” Keep that promise within 24 – 48 hours and get back to your networking friend to say, “Hey, let me make an introduction on LinkedIn. I found that person I was thinking about.”

Remembering this is a two-way street, keeping those networking promises, it really is a lifeline to those in job search because it’s what we would hope, it’s the Golden Rule. Isn’t that what you would want someone to do for you?

Mac Prichard:

Be generous, keep your promises, and be of service to others. Other suggestions, Linda, about a follow-up? Either in conversation at the events or after you go home.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Yes, I like to keep a list of maybe 2 or 3 gems if I’m in job search. The 2 or 3 gems that I may have met at a particular meeting and about 30 days later, if I’m keeping an Excel spreadsheet, and I think every job seeker keeps an excel spreadsheet, mine tend to have lots of tabs across the bottom. Between the job sites I’m using or the active targets I’m going after, or the networking groups that I’m attending but then I have my clients keep a networking tab listing the different people they’ve met that want to keep in touch with from these groups.

I suggest that at least every 30 days, reach back out, maybe 2, 3, 4 a week, just a little email, a text message, a message on LinkedIn, something that says, “Hey George, thinking of you. Hope that interview went well last week.” Because isn’t it nice to know that we aren’t going through this alone.

Mac Prichard:

It makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

It does. It really does. It keeps your high hopes, it keeps you buoyant, it keeps you waking up every morning and doing it again.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Linda. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Oh thanks, Mac. Well, I’d like to offer something to your great listeners.

I’ve been mentioning a one-page overview sheet today, versus giving out that resume, and if listeners would like, I’d be happy to share it.

If you would email me at linda@myexecutivecareercoach.com, and if in the subject line you put Mac’s List, I’m happy to send you a sample of what my version of a one-pager looks like.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a very generous offer.

I know you have other resources available on your website. People can access those and learn more about you and your company by visiting myexecutivecareercoach.com.

Well, Linda, given all the advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want listeners to remember when their networking isn’t working?

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

That you’re not alone. Reach out to people, reach out to facilitators, try a new group, contact an old friend, but don’t think you have to go through this alone.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, thank you, Linda. I really appreciate you being on the show.

Linda Van Valkenburgh:

Oh, I was so happy to be here, Mac. Thank you so much.

Mac Prichard:

Take care.

When I talk to job seekers who are nervous about attending networking events, and I ask them a few questions, usually what I learn is this: they’re not sure what to do when they walk into that event and in our conversation today with Linda, she laid out an excellent road map for, not only how to prepare, but for what to do when you’re at the event and how to follow up.

It was a good step by step program and I think that it’s going to be invaluable for you all who are getting ready for your next networking event.

Speaking of taking steps, the number one first step you need to take in any job search is being clear about what you want. You’ve got to have that focus because without it, you could attend events in all kinds of fields but you need to focus on the field where you want to be.

If you’re struggling with finding that focus in your job search, we’ve got a guide that can help.

It’s free and it’s called, Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Go to our website. Visit macslist.org/focus and get your own copy today.

It’s a free step by step guide to setting goals.


Well, thanks for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Lisa Gates. She’ll explain how to respond to a lowball salary offer.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.