As a Lifehacker, you must be attuned to the changing trends in the workplace. The uncertainties in the U.S economy put into question the idea of a “stable job”. You might be also more keen on pursuing portfolio careers or perhaps setting up a business in lieu of the traditional climb-the-corporate-ladder career path.

The only way for you to cope with a changing workplace is for you to leave your desk and meet people who can help you attain whatever you want from your career – with or without the threat of recession.

So, the best career investment that you can do now is to go to networking events. This will give you a chance to meet corporate executives and entrepreneurs who can give you job leads, serve as your mentors and/or become your business partners.

1. Be selective

Some events are worth it, some are just useless, you need to choose the networking event which is aligned with your goal. Choose an event where you can find the experts in your field and/or where you have a higher chance of meeting your potential employers.

Do your research first – surf the net for information about the event and ask your friends and colleagues for feedback on the networking events they have went to themselves.

2. Have clear, well-defined goals

List down what you want to get out of this networking event and then make your own schedule that will meet your goals.

For instance, Rossana Llenado, founder of online tutorial company Ahead Interactive (AI), invests on attending networking events as this helps her in building her business. So despite her initial concerns on cost and spending time away from her four kids in Manila, Llenado left for California to attend the four-day convention of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in San Diego.

Llenado went to IABC conference and participated in the workshops and met up with business contacts in the U.S.. This is in line with her goal to put AI as one the world’s premier provider of online tutorial services. She came home, with a lot of ideas on how to expand AI’s reach and is now busy fine tuning her operations.

3. Build relationships

Instead of indiscriminately handing out and collecting business cards, use networking events to meet and establish long-term relationships with potential employers or business partners. Networking organizers advise that you focus on making “meaningful connections” with few people – those who have the right vibe and you’re comfortable working with.

You also need to avoid being too aggressive, asking questions like “so do you have any job openings?” or “are you interested to buy my products?”

This will turn off a lot of people – hard selling won’t sell here. Just be cool and discuss with them your common interests and goal. Exchange business cards and keep those contacts “warm” by sending e-mails or inviting them for coffee where you can discuss your proposal.

4. Pay it forward

Go to the networking events with the mindset that you will bring value to the table – and not to pass around your resume and sell your products.

Yes you can find job leads in networking events – but not on one go. You need to establish trust and confidence among the people that you meet in these events. When approaching someone, you need to consider how your skills and interests can help in solving his/her business problem.

5. Treat networking as a career investment

Going to these events is not cheap. You need to invest both time and money, and the cost gets higher if the event is being held overseas.

You need to discern the difference between value and cost. If the $1,000 you spend going to networking events will bring you triple that amount either in terms of business revenues or career promotion, then the event will have paid for itself.

That said, if you’re broke or had to get a second mortgage just to attend the event then you better skip it, and save for it so you can go there in the future. Besides, a high price tag will not necessarily mean that is of high value – to you. Many people spend money to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos. It is a high value event for many people, but do you think going to Davos will help you attain your specific career goals?

Whatever career path you want to pursue, everything in the end will boil down to having solid relationships with present and future colleagues and partners. While social networking sites may have helped in expanding your work and social circles, meeting people face to face will build trust and confidence that will pave the way to better opportunities.

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