“When people come together who all care about a specific idea that’s relevant to our city, or to young professionals here, it’s a jumping-off point for people to be able to talk to each other.”
Most millennials are already adept at networking — online, at least. Between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, those born from the 1980s to the late 1990s might seem to be already connected enough to deem old-school networking passé.
But as it turns out, this digitally plugged-in generation has plenty of need, and opportunity, for face-to-face professional networking, especially here in the Seattle area.
“Millennials are consistently looking to improve themselves professionally,” says Ahmad Corner, 32, the president and co-founder of Young Professionals of Seattle, a networking group. “My philosophy is, it’s hard to do that if you’re not connecting with the right people.”
Corner says social networking may prove useful for your career in certain cases, but cold-contacting online can be tough. “It’s very difficult to reach out to someone on LinkedIn and ask them to have coffee if you don’t have a personal connection,” he says.
The networking Corner was hungry for six years ago stemmed from wanting to break out of the network he already had, to see what else he could find to do professionally.
“The first happy hour we put on, the idea was no name tags, no speeches and no cost. Just getting together as many people from all industries to be able to chat and get an opportunity to know who else is in your community,” Corner says.
Today, Young Professionals of Seattle is a group 8,000 strong, putting on regular monthly happy hours that get between 150 and 200 guests. The group also now offers some more specialized events, like ski trips, wine tastings or brewery tours, and have organized niche groups that offer more opportunities for professional development, in addition to strict networking: one for young professionals with an entrepreneurial bent, and another for women in business.
Corner, himself, got the shake-up he wanted in his career thanks to the networking group. He left his job in the law and finance world and took a few years to develop YPOS full-time. Now, in addition to continuing to work on YPOS, he works for a tech company, a career he says is demanding, but exciting.
Another group that puts on local networking events is the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, through its Young Professionals Network (YPN). The Chamber offers events for young professionals interested in particular topics or themes important to the business community.
“Last year, we went to [the YPN Creative Council] to take stock of what attendees at our monthly events really wanted and used that to update what we were offering,” says Kayla DeMonte, 29, who oversees YPN at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
The Creative Council is made up of several young professionals from various Seattle-area companies, and DeMonte says they all wanted opportunities to develop skills and to network with leaders and peers in the business community.
Now YPN’s monthly event usually offers a mix of traditional networking and more organized programming. Most of the events cost between $20 and $30 to attend.
“Last month, we had an event at MG2, a local architecture firm, which was on the topic of transit-oriented design,” DeMonte says. “We featured a principle architect speaking about design and someone from King County speaking about ST3 [Sound Transit 3], then followed that up with some networking.”
DeMonte says having a theme to the events helps people who may be wary of introducing themselves to a roomful of strangers connect. “When people come together who all care about a specific idea that’s relevant to our city, or to young professionals here, it’s a jumping-off point for people to be able to talk to each other.”
Networking tips for millennials, from millennials
Old school is OK. Kayla DeMonte, who oversees the Young Professionals Network at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, says don’t be afraid of carrying good old-fashioned business cards. “They’re a great way to remember who you met, and you can take notes right on them about what you talked about. I think as millennials, we understand the value of tech and social media, but we also understand the value of face-to-face contact and writing things down on a piece of paper.”
Be prepared. Ahmad Corner, co-founder of Young Professionals of Seattle, says to go into a networking event prepared. If you are looking for a job lead or an informational interview of some kind, be comfortable talking about it and asking questions. “While our events are kind of non-committal and low pressure, it will serve you well if you know what you want out of them to be prepared to talk to people about that. Find out the companies and industries you might want to go into and find those people. Then be inquisitive, ask people what they do for work and how they like it.”
Keep in touch. The follow-up is important, says DeMonte. Feel free to do it online but continue the in-person conversation. “A good rule of thumb when you meet people is to not think about how will they help me, but how can I help them. Then you can follow up with some sort of piece of information that’s helpful, or a connection for them — something that shows you know how to be valuable.”