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Take Your Career to the Next Level with These Happy Hour Networking Tips

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Jo Yeh

A Happy Hour networking event is a prime opportunity to make contacts and advance your career. It’s also a potential minefield of tricky social situations that, if handled incorrectly, can do the exact opposite.

Sound dramatic? Rest easy, we’ve got you covered. We compiled a bunch of scenarios that often come up at these events and worked out how—and how not—to handle them. Incorporate these tips into your networking game and make sure you come out of Happy Hour further along the road to success than you were when you went in.

You’re talking to someone who can help your career, and their drink is empty but yours is not

What’s the play here? You don’t necessarily want to rush off and get them a drink, or even offer to—you’re not a suck-up—but you do have to acknowledge it. This is when you say something like, “Hey, I don’t want to talk your ear off, and I notice your drink is empty…” This gives them a convenient exit option, and it also leaves the door open for you to buy them a drink—on more level terms.

One of your friends comes over while you’re in conversation with a potentially great contact

What do you do? You acknowledge them in a friendly way and tell them you’ll catch up with them in a minute. If they don’t get the hint, you don’t get flustered—you introduce them to the person you’re talking to and move the conversation forward. You roll with it and hope your friend doesn’t sense opportunity as keenly as you do.

Your turn comes at the bar

To avoid that hesitation in front of the bartender—and potential contacts—have a drink in mind before you get to the bar. When it’s your turn, you order decisively. The alternative is registering indecision with potential employers—or talent managers, or whatever the case may be—which will affect their impression of you, either consciously or unconsciously. If your drink of choice is a complicated cocktail, don’t sweat it: own your inner cocktail nerd, and turn it into a conversation piece.

Jo Yeh

You want to exchange information, but smoothly

The goal here is to avoid an abrupt, awkward request for a card or contact info. One strategy is to tee it up in your conversation: “Hey, let’s make sure we exchange information before the end of the night.” Another is to keep an eye out for an obvious opportunity to provide your contact info in the course of the conversation. If business cards are the play, Anneke Jong, an entrepreneur and former executive at online reservation service Reserve, recommends keeping them organized as you collect them—put them all in the same spot (your back left pocket, for example). She also recommends jotting a few notes about the person and what you talked about with them that night, for future reference.

You want to exchange information—even more smoothly

Business cards are kind of old-school, and depending on the industry, not everyone you meet will have one. What everyone definitely will have, though, is a smartphone. Jong recommends that when the time comes, you simply open your phone to Contacts, pull up a blank one, hand the phone to the person, and have them fill in their info. Then you can text them later with yours. Boom, done.

You’re in a boring or unproductive conversation

Your move here is to make a graceful exit. The Harvard Business Review has a three-step exit move you could make, but it could come off forced, depending on the conversation you’re bailing out of. There’s nothing wrong with the polite, “Excuse me, I’m gonna go grab another drink,” or, even better: “Have you tried those bacon-wrapped scallops? I had an early lunch today, and they look incredible—mind if I go grab one?” No one’s going to fault you for that. You could also bring your phone into the equation, and harmlessly make up a text you need to excuse yourself to reply to. There are lots of options, just keep it light, considerate, and polite.

You’re in an interesting conversation but it’s not helping you network

Are you an inhuman monster if you leave this conversation? Well, genuinely interesting conversations are things to be treasured, for sure, and the person you’re talking to might appreciate your lack of agenda and then, in turn, be more likely, down the line, to introduce you to someone who can help you. You’ll just have to decide how interesting the conversation is. This is a networking event, after all, so if you were to bow out gracefully, it wouldn't necessarily be the wrong move.

You finished your drink, and you’re holding an empty

Do: Leave it on a coaster or napkin on the bar or an unoccupied cocktail table. Do: hand it to a server who’s collecting empties (not delivering drinks to someone else). Don't: Leave it in a plant, on a narrow ledge of any kind, or try to take it with you. Failure to get this one right can leave a bad impression.

Jo Yeh

Happy Hour last call is announced

You hang tight. You don’t go rushing off to the bar to get in another round. It’s herd-like and desperate, two qualities you def don’t want to show to a potential employer.

You’re ready to settle up

Priority No. 1 here is not to forget your server at the end of the night. There’s going to be a lot of moving around and mingling at this event, so it’s easy to forget the need to tip the person who brought you drinks the entire time. Making sure to take care of your server will leave a good impression—so will treating him or her politely and respectfully all night long. If you’re paying on a round-by-round basis, tip them well the first time they stop by, and you’ll be more likely to get your next round without having to break off a conversation.

Miscellaneous Bonus Advice

It’s true what they say about handshakes

There’s more to them than meets the eye, or, you know, hands. According to an editor at Muse, a Fortune 500 CEO once said that when he had to choose between two evenly qualified candidates for a job, he went with the candidate with the better handshake. No joke. So here’s your basic form: look them in the eye, smile, say “It’s nice to meet you,” and make sure your grasp is firm, but not a Death Grip (and definitely not a Dead Fish).
 

Don’t discuss politics, religion, or, ahem, locker room talk

If the event is taking place at a church, or involves a local politician, then you might be able to bring up the first two topics, but that last one is off limits, period.

Do discuss your passion

Whatever current or future job that involves, go for it. This is a networking event, after all. Just try to keep it casual (you’re in a bar, not an office) and don’t make it too self-involved.

Need a guide on how much to tip?

Our rule of thumb is $2 a drink, or 20% of the total tab.