Stage 3 — A Drink Is Not A Toy:
It is both a sword and a shield. USE IT. As a shield, an empty drink is the single best way to get out of a conversation you don’t want to be in anymore. In fact, it’s the only polite, non-awkward way to end a conversation.
Don’t drink your drink at all as long as you meander around. You want to keep your shield at full strength. But when you get caught talking to a guy you thought was an employer, but is actually just a guy who is there to kiss the same ass you are trying to kiss (like the employer’s assistant), down your drink and get out of there. The assistant ass-kisser will think you are a decent human, and you won’t waste your best material on a person with no authority. Get back to the drink line and reload.
I say reload because a drink is also a great way to get into a conversation that you need to be in on. First of all, make friends in the drink line. This is easy. Say something about the quality of your previous drink, or the service, or whatever. If you can’t strike up a conversation in a drink line, then you are literally more boring than standing in line.
But even out of the drink line, drinking is a good way to barge in on a convo. Say you’re being iced out by a more charismatic individual who has the employer’s attention: wait for the employer to be near the end of his or her drink, and offer to refill it (since you’re going up there anyway as you’ve just downed yours). If the employer accepts, they have to talk to you when you come back with their beverage. Those are just the rules: bring a person a drink, they must listen to you for at least half of it.
If you want to be a real networking superstar, change your drink choice to whatever the employer is drinking. Then talk about drinking. Remember, most people over the age of 35 have a reason for their drink of choice. They’ve tried it all; now, they’re old, they’re not experimenting anymore. They’re not standing at the bar like an overwhelmed tourist at a new fast food place. They know what they like drinking, and they know why. Ask them.
Stage 4 — Dismount
At some point, you are going to start to feel tipsy. That’s fine. Where people get themselves into trouble is when they feel emboldened. The key thing to do is: leave. People make leaving networking events overly complicated because they try to do too much. It’s been a good event and somewhere in their desperate mind, they want to leave the thing with a job offer or interview in hand. That’s never going to happen, but they push too far and end up drenched in the desperation they were trying so hard to avoid. Or in the alternative, it’s been a bad event and people try to turn it all around with one good late time conversation, like a gambler trying to win it all back on the roulette wheel.
Good or bad, there are some obvious times to stop drinking and leave.
1) When you feel tipsy: Granted you have to know yourself and what constitutes “tipsy” for you. You can’t be the stupid college freshman who doesn’t realize the drinks are “affecting” her until her panties are on top of her head. But a good rule of thumb is that when it starts to feel more like a party and less like work, leave. Doesn’t matter if you did or did not talk to the guy you really wanted to talk to. Leave and live to network another day.
2) When everybody else is drunk: As a functional, professional alcoholic, I find myself in a lot of situations where I’m my “usual” drunk self, but other people are unusually drunk for them. That’s a good time to make an exit. Why waste your efforts on people who are only going to have a hazy recollection?
3) When you are texting your friends, trying to figure out where they are so you can go out drinking later: I think some of the biggest disasters I’ve seen are from people who are trying to kill an hour at a “networking event” before meeting up with their buddies. It’s a bad recipe: you’re mentally checked out, but you’re still drinking free alcohol. You want to be hanging with friends, and you start doing things that will make for a good story when you meet up. “Yeah, I hit on that hot partner lady” sounds like something you’ll want to be able to say in two hours, but it’s a terrible idea in real time. Leave the event and kill the hour somewhere else.
4) When the open bar ends: If you end up putting down cash at a bar that used to be open, you are no longer trying to get a job, you are trying to get drunk. They have a place for that, it’s called “home.”
There you go. Take it from me, I’ve quit more jobs than most people have had. A good drinking strategy and a good networking strategy go hand-in-hand like Jack and Coke.
A Drink-by-Drink Guide to Success at Legal Networking Events [Greedy Associates]