Networking events are dead, but a new brand of live business meetups is taking center stage. In our new world of give-first startups and social media, traditional pitch-heavy networking has effectively been disrupted. While Startup Grind is only five years old, it’s one of tens of thousands of meetups professionals and graduates are using to build their careers. But one group isn’t getting the full experience: students. As a USC sophomore, I’m often the only eighteen year old in the entire room. Students have the most to learn from these events, yet they don’t understand just how truly valuable they can be to a young entrepreneur. Here’s how getting involved with events will boost your opportunities to the next level.
You Build Connections
Outside of our professors and fellow classmates, there aren’t too many places for students to find professional connections. Sure, you may find one or two at a career fair -- but lasting relationships that will help guide your careers will not be made in a packed auditorium. Students have actually voiced their concern: 57% say they wished their school offered more networking opportunities. The trick is to network smarter, not harder: between my two Startup Grind events, I’ve made five valuable connections, and I’m continuing to exchange value by nurturing the relationship on LinkedIn. The golden rules are to go for quality over quantity, and to give before you ask. Although it may seem small at first, my weekly meetups have completely morphed my career as a young professional.
You Absorb Like a Sponge
Here’s where being young and humble really comes in use. My second ever Startup Grind was a fireside chat with the one and only, Gary Vaynerchuk. His crass humor and “no bull” attitude are absolute magnets for college marketing students. Not only was I entertained, but I was also able to completely take in everything he was saying and treat it like a class. As we age, our memory worsens, and we aren’t able to retain as much information. Taking advantage of our youthful, absorbent minds allows us to take in advice from everywhere and efficiently process it. Even though I may feel burnt out from my multivariable calculus course, I can still sit through a meetup with full confidence that I will be able to retain the information. Your best bet is to pick meetups that match your interests and treat these as your passion project.
You Learn How to Speak to Humans
Excited by what I’ve been learning, I invited a good friend to a meetup to get his career kick-started. Before going, he told me he was worried about creating conversation with thirty year-olds in suits. What was he suppose to say? He felt as though he didn’t know enough about business to converse with such developed professionals.
I know what he meant: I felt the same way before my first Startup Grind. I remember attending a fireside chat with Monica Dodi, the co-founder of the Women’s Venture Capital fund. Knowing no one and venturing out for the first time were challenging: I didn’t have any idea what to say or if anyone would talk to me, either. But this isn’t a feeling unique to college students: even the professionals struggle to find conversation, and many will find talking to a young person to be a great, low-risk way to make friends and contacts.
It was no less painful for me at first. I felt awkward and uncomfortable - but I’m thrilled I pushed myself out there during freshman year rather than waiting to make contacts when I was already becoming a senior. The first event is the hardest, but they also have the most to teach: interpersonal skills, business strategy, and social etiquette. These aren’t things you’ll brush up in a classroom.
Events are an easy way to level up as a college student -- or younger. College won’t teach you to land a job, how to talk to professionals older than me, or the trained ease of exchanging contact information -- for this you need field work. More than social skills, events allow you to effectively intersect classroom lessons with the power of live interaction in the real world, where student entrepreneurs can be significantly more competitive. Startup Grind has allowed me to meet impactful mentors and influencers that have taught me how to present myself in a professional manner and to funnel my passion for business into real results. My advice for my fellow students: if you aren’t attending meetups, you’re already slacking behind.