5 Unexpected Places For Professional Networking
By Karin Eldor
Are you a “networking ninja”? You know: the type who easily meets new people, and maintains those relationships for when you need them most (such as when you’re in the midst of a job search, are faced with a job relocation and find yourself in a new city, are contemplating a complete career change, or are searching for guidance from a mentor). Because even if you don't think you need those contacts today – you will someday.
The key to effective networking is to do it… All. The. Time. View every day and event as a new opportunity to expand your network of contacts, because timing is everything and sometimes who you know makes all the difference in the world.
And if you feel you’ve exhausted the usual spots (such as during “Happy Hour” in your city’s business district, or networking events and conferences), then these five places are more unexpected -- but crawling with rich networking opportunities.
So keep your eyes open and get ready to get out there and connect...
1- Gym classes
True, meeting people at the gym isn’t a novel concept. But thanks to the proliferation of spinning and yoga studios, gyms have become more of a community than simply a place to exercise.
You never know who you’ll be circuit training with or doing your best “Warrior Pose” next to; so be friendly, as they could end becoming your new boss, business partner or critical connector who refers you to a dream opportunity.
2- Book clubs
This one’s for the ladies. Forget wine-tasting circles and jewellery parties; book clubs are the newest cultural trend. Perhaps it’s because we’re tired of binge-watching TV or are simply craving intellectual conversations with (new) friends. Or maybe the current climate (made even more stressful on social media) is encouraging people to find commonalities with others while sharing thoughts about the latest bestseller. People are looking for community and conversation, and book clubs are fulfilling this need.
For starters, book clubs take away the pressure of having to approach someone, like at a conference or traditional networking setting. They help you connect and discuss issues with others in an organic, natural way.
Bonus: if you’re part of a regular book club, it might even become the venue for other members to share job openings and opportunities in between swapping notes about the book.
And if reading isn’t really your thing, then look into other clubs in your area. There could be art classes and exhibits, or other cultural activities that are more your jam.
3- Charity organizations
Not only will helping a cause close to your heart make you feel good, but it’s also an easy and fulfilling way to automatically expand your network. We tend to have our guard down while volunteering, so it’s an easy way to introduce yourself and widen your network. Pay it forward and join a planning committee for a fundraising event or simply help out at your leisure. It’s a win-win.
4- Vacation destinations
Now for the ultimate place where people are most relaxed: vacation spots. Just because your “out of office” message is on, doesn’t mean you can’t work the crowd! Cruises and resorts are a networking goldmine, especially those that are popular among Canadians. So if you feel guilty about unplugging while on vacation (and please do unplug!), then take comfort in the fact that you might be making valuable professional connections while making memories. Destinations like cruises and resorts always have icebreakers, which allow vacationers to strike up conversations and get out of their comfort zones. (I’ve even made some interesting contacts on flights while heading on vacation!)
BTW: make sure to email your new contacts post-vacation; although that person you met while scuba-diving is from another province, they might be a key connection in the future.
5- Communal workspaces (yes, including coffee shops)
One trend that has surfaced with the rise of side hustles and freelance workers is the proliferation of shared workspaces. The concept is based on the belief that independent workers and entrepreneurs thrive on being part of a collective workspace -- and networking is part of this value proposition.
Shout-out to the original communal workspace: the coffee shop. Cafés have long doubled as the unofficial shared workspace, for anyone who works remotely, independently, and of course for students. After all, they serve up more than matcha lattes and free Wi-Fi; if you’re open to sparking up conversations, your favourite café can be a potential serendipitous meeting ground where amazing connections can be created.
Master of networking
Stay open to meeting people and starting conversations: opportunities can arise in ways you never thought possible! So as the classic motto goes, always be prepared and keep business cards in your wallet, and have your elevator pitch nailed (keep it clear and concise). Another helpful tip about cultivating your contacts: don't only reach out when you need something. People are pleasantly surprised to receive a kind email with no strings attached.
Oh and most importantly: never judge the person next to you at the gym or Starbucks; they might just be the CEO of the company you’ve been coveting!