By Liz Ryan
As much as you'd like to be sociable when attending job search networking events, you don't have unlimited time to spend with the "wrong sorts" of networking-event attendees.
Please note that when I say "wrong sort" I don't mean people who can't necessarily help you in your job search or people who aren't flashy dressers or people who seem to be several levels below you professionally. These are all wonderful people to spend time with. I'm not suggesting that you become a networking snob.
There is a wrong sort of person to be stuck with at a networking event, and that's the person who cannot stop talking about him- or herself and who literally or figuratively pushes you into a corner from which you find it tough to budge.
This used to happen to me all the time when I first started attending networking functions. I'd notice that three-quarters of an hour had gone by and I'd been stuck in my conversational corner the whole time. If you ever saw the John Candy – Steve Martin film "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" then you know the sort of conversationalist I'm referring to.
You are a good soul, but you don't have time to spend stuck in your conversational corner all night. You must escape – but how? Here are a few days to make your move.
For most of us, escaping "the wrong sort" is difficult.
You can always excuse yourself to go to the mens' or ladies room, but there is a certain type of regrettably clueless networker who will accompany you there! You can also say "Forgive me, I'm parched, I must get a drink" but you carry the same risk. Your new best friend may say "Me too" and walk to the bar or drink table with you. So, the following strategies are more reliable ways to depart.
First, you can spot someone you know across the room and say "Gosh, forgive me, I've got to go see Joel," and dash. Over your shoulder, add "So nice talking with you!" Of course, in this case, you can't name someone you don't actually know. You must know Joel (or Jane, or Sally) in order to make this exit strategy work. You must make a beeline to that person and gush over him or her as though you'd be thinking of him or her nonstop for days.
You can spend a few minutes chatting, and then go wherever you like in the room. It's not rude to say "I must talk to Joel" because that chat with Joel may have been the very reason you attended the event in the first place.
Now what happens if your new pal also knows the very same friend you had in mind to save you? Doesn't matter. You rush over to Joel and say "Joel, how are you, I've been thinking about you, and I have a question for you that I'd like to ask you out in the hall." You take Joel by the arm and go into the hall with him – your new friend is not invited to that one-on-one conversation. That is perfectly polite, because you made it clear that you needed to speak with Joel and, had you wanted a three-person conversation, you would have invited your new friend to join you – but you didn't.
Another way to get out of an interminable conversation is to say "Please forgive me, I've got to make a phone call." If you do this, you must have your phone with you! You must go and make a phone call, or try to make one, or pretend to try to make one. Then you're a free-range chicken again. You can talk to anyone you like.
There is one more way to get out of a painful networking conversation, and that is to leave the event. You can give yourself an out if you think you may return, saying "You know, I have to run to a quick meeting. I may be back – glad to have met you." Then, you can take a walk around the block and decide whether you have more networking energy or just energy enough to get home and get to bed. Keep your drink tickets in your pocket, just in case!
Networking does have its hazards, but it is survivable, and with these strategies, it can be fun as well as beneficial to your job search. Go forth, and enjoy (now that you know how to escape when you must).
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn.