If you want to get a job, networking events aren't the best use of your time anymore.
That's a spicy take, so let's step back to something we definitely agree on: You only have so many hours in a day.
If you're dedicating some of those hours to getting a job, or building your career, or connecting with people in your industry who can help you do those things, I don't think you should spend those hours at networking events.
And this is not to say that there's no value in knowing people in your field who are local, and no value in attending those events! Community and in-person connection is important on a human level.
But as the office is decoupled from where work gets done, networking events are decoupled from your ability to connect with people who can help you in your career.
That's why if your primary goal is using your time effectively to get a job, I don't think networking events are it.
So what should you do instead?
If you have two hours to invest in growing your career, you should spend those hours in the most useful way possible: creating content about your field and what you do.
It's never been more important to create content about your work.
I will never shut up about this.
What that looks like for your industry and your craft might be very different, which is why I say creating content, and not necessarily writing or blogging. No matter what type of content works for your specific field, creating content is by far the highest-impact way to spend your time building your career.
Networking events have always rewarded content creation
This isn't actually news.
Think about any in-person networking event where there's a speaker, whether it's a local event or a marquee industry conference. There are three types of attendees:
- The speakers
- The attendees who actively connect with other people
- The attendees who quietly learn from the event
All three of those people get something different out of the event, in a pretty direct relationship with how much effort they put into the event.
If you're a speaker, you're putting in a lot of work to refine your ideas and deliver a great presentation. You're creating content for the event.
In exchange, you probably get the most out of the event. Everyone sees you as an expert and listens to what you have to say, and even if you don't talk with everyone one on one, they know your name and have heard your (hopefully good) ideas.
That's very strong positioning for you and your career, so the event has a big impact for you, which you definitely earned by putting in the work to create great content.
Connecting with people one on one can also be really impactful, but it takes less prep work. One great connection could make a huge difference in your career, but you're not positioning yourself as the expert to everyone at the entire event.
And attending events simply to absorb the content and learn is valuable in its own way, because even one great idea or new technique you can apply to your work could make you better at your job. Plus, it's often the lowest-effort way to get value out of the event, and you don't have to brave any terrifying small talk if you don't want to.
These are all good outcomes, but even given the hard work of preparing for the event, the speaker probably gets the biggest career boost from the event.
Online networking rewards content creation, too
Now, consider how this works online.
First of all, you don't have to be chosen to be a speaker. You can create content right now. You can talk about your work right now. Will you get a ton of viewers right away? Will you have the authority implied by an event?
No, but you can create content. If people see it, and it's good, that can have a huge impact on your career. If it's not good, you'll be motivated to learn and level up your skills. That's also really impactful.
But maybe you're not at the stage when you're where you're ready to create content yet. That's fine, because all of these three types of event attendance translate to online—you don't have to be "the speaker" to connect with people in your field where they're hanging out online.
You can jump into conversations about articles you like, find communities that are talking about your field, and build connections digitally with people who are already talking about their work online.
And if you're not ready for that yet, you can listen. There are experts in your industry sharing what they know online. There are communities talking about your craft on Twitter, in Slack groups, and on industry websites. You can follow those conversations and learn from the absolute best in your chosen field without ever interacting with them (although for what it's worth, you should!).
Content creation is the most effective way to spend your networking time
If you have two hours to invest in growing your career, the highest-impact ways you could spend them are writing about your work, interacting with people in your field online, and finding where those people hang out and following what they're talking about—not attending a local networking event.
Your local event is limited to your local network, your local experts, and your local jobs. As more companies and industries open up to the possibility of remote work, all of a sudden a network that spans different cities and countries can connect you to jobs in all of them.
Local jobs aren't the only ones you can get anymore, and you can just as easily learn from the best in the world at what you do—not just the best at what you do in your area.
So if you're looking to invest time in the most effective way to grow your career, creating content is going to be much more valuable than attending a networking event. Plus, when you create something, you invest the time once but you have an asset that can be useful to dozens (or hundreds) of people.
And if you do both, when you connect with someone at that networking event you'll have work they can check out.
Obviously doing both is going to be incredibly effective. But if you can only do one, and you want to leverage your time most effectively, content creation is it.