The New Networking: Creating connections as a young professional

Courtesy of YPAL

Professionals from across the city lounge and sip cocktails as they talk everything from business to bourbon. | Photo courtesy of YPAL

One recent evening, dozens of young professionals packed into Lola, the new revival of the bar above Butchertown Grocery, to sip wine and bourbon, and discuss everything from economic development to best spots for local hiking. Two people met face to face and realized they had known each other for years on social media. Strangers introduced themselves with ease, while old acquaintances caught up.

It was 5:48, the Young Professionals Association of Louisville’s quarterly networking event, so named for its start time. The event hosts professionals from legal, finance, education, nonprofits and other industries, and attendees wore a name tag that identified their industry, so it was not hard to scope out the ones who could fit your needs and the ones who couldn’t. But when young people (YPAL defines a young professional as one who’s 21-40 years old) network these days, it’s less about looking for new employment opportunities or even necessarily about business relationships.

Chris Nation, president of YPAL, says the goal of the organization is to act as a bridge connecting people to opportunity, while supporting the citywide mission of talent attraction and talent retention. “YPAL creates a lot of access points for people in the city,” Nation said. It’s because of this that YPAL has 856 members and counting, he added. It’s a hub for people to generate business, build a peer network and get involved with the community.

So, yes, networking events such as 5:48 are still a place to explore new employment opportunities, to promote your company or to recruit potential employees, but there is a noticeable shift from a career-oriented foundation to a social one.

Many attendees noted that when they were looking to find more friends, they didn’t necessarily want to be close with the people they share an office with every day. Networking events such as these can introduce them to people of similar lifestyles who are more disconnected from their day job. They can form friendships with these new acquaintances, they said, without worrying about the complications that might arise in their work lives.

Young professionals today have greater mobility than perhaps any generation to come before, as is illustrated by a barrage of articles in publications from The New York Times to CityLab about where millennials are moving. Coming to cities in which they don’t have many, if any, friends or family members, networking events offer the opportunity for people to make the connections they need.

Such is the case for some of Louisville’s newest residents like Mandy Boyd, a 22-year-old sales coordinator at 21c, who just moved to Louisville after graduating from Western Kentucky University. She’s attended the YPAL event not only to network for her job, but to meet like-minded people in her new city. On this night, she met people who have referred her to three more opportunities for new Louisville professionals to connect.

Andrea Linares, 27, came to Lola for similar reasons. She’s just moved to Louisville from Williamsburg, N.Y., leaving behind the world of fashion for the slower pace and friendlier faces of Louisville.

“Fifty percent, honestly, is about networking,” Linares explained. “I’m new to the city. Part of it’s networking to do more for my job and the other part — probably the other 50 percent — is to meet someone, romantically.”

To be sure, the people who meet at networking events are likely to be more predictable than meeting someone at a bar, so the events serve almost as a vetting process. These individuals presumably have jobs, or are are actively looking for one. They want to expand their social or professional circle. “They’re perhaps decent options,” Linares says.