Looking for tech talent? Log offline and head to IRL parties

Post-pandemic, people want to connect in person—recruiters can take advantage by attending industry social events to make connections, find hiring leads, and maybe have a little fun, as a treat.
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Andrew Yeung

· 5 min read

Two years ago, Andrew Yeung, a global product lead at Google, moved to New York City hoping to build his social and professional community—what he found was a city shut down and isolated due to Covid-19. One beautiful day in the summer of 2021, he decided to organize a meet-up of tech professionals in Central Park. With little notice, 50 people came.

Over email, Yeung explained that the pandemic had left people “longing for more social connection.” In the past, young professionals often spent eight hours a day interacting and bonding in-person with coworkers. Now, he said, many New Yorkers crave that same community but struggle to forge connections while working remotely. He’s trying to make introductions easier by hosting events for people in his industry.

The events, which range from 100 to 1,000 guests, blur the line between social and professional, and can include anything from vibing after hours on swanky hotel rooftops, to sweating it out in the early morning at an Equinox spin class or meeting up for a casual dinner. Though Yeung’s events aren’t geared toward hiring—and from what HR Brew observed at one evening event in January, folks are far more likely to sport a welcome drink than a copy of their résumé—attendees are making job connections.

Why talk shop off the clock? It has been well-documented (since at least 1973!) that loose connections—acquaintances or strangers in the same industry—help workers find not just their next job but their next good job, i.e., jobs with high satisfaction and pay. The trouble is, since the onset of Covid, social distancing led to a loss of 21% of our “loose ties” as people pruned their social rosters. Not only did we attend fewer friends of friends’ birthday shindigs, we also lost possible job leads.

“Our closest connections help in a number of ways…but they are usually not in the same industries or roles,” Andy Challenger, SVP of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, told us over email. They’re not as valuable for networking as an acquaintance, said Challenger: “They don’t come up with the next position directly.”

Post-Covid, Cliff Lerner, the CEO of social media app Saturday, has seen the Gen Z and millennial tech community turn away from traditional, buttoned-up networking events and toward relaxed, socially oriented evenings to reform these valuable lost connections. He thinks it makes sense that a generation robbed of time is trying to kill two birds with one stone.

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“You lost three years of your social life during Covid,” Lerner said. People moved out of the city, got into new relationships, or just lost touch. “So, yes, this group of Gen Z is looking to network, but they’re also rebuilding that social group and making up for lost time with new friends.”

Floor plan of recent NY tech event with sections for networking, recruiting, fundraising, and hanging out

Floor plan of a recent NY Tech Event, designed to help attendees who come alone find likeminded people. Image courtesy of Andrew Yeung

Just as Challenger’s intuition suggests, if you want to hire, it’s paying off to be in these rooms. Even though Yeung said that just 7% of his attendees come intending to land a job (most are there for fun or to network), HR Brew talked to attendees who swapped information about open roles and found freelance work through the events network. As one attendee told us, he’d certainly hire first through the Yeung network.

“We prioritize our friends [for opportunities] always,” Jono Hooper, global marcom specialist at Agilent Technologies, said.

Human connection to hiring connection. Events like the Yeung’s NY tech meetups also give candidates a low-stakes way to get a realistic job preview. Jamie Kohn, director of the HR practice at Gartner, explained that traditional recruitment events often fail to establish authentic connections between recruiters and applicants because it’s obvious the company is selling an image—and applicants are skeptical about whether that image matches reality. Workers, Kohn said, have been burned in recent years on compensation expectations, changing norms around flexible work, and, most recently, promises of job security.

As Kohn put it: “Candidates don’t trust recruiters.”

Savvy recruiting teams, she said, might consider sending employees and hiring managers to events like Yeung’s to act as informal company ambassadors and ease candidates’ worries.

“You’re more likely to engage with and respond to people who aren’t trying to actively sell you something, or their job doesn’t depend on selling you something,” Kohn explained.

The benefits go both ways. Olgena Guzhuna, partner at Gamma Capital Group, has met three promising candidates to refer back to her team while attending Yeung’s events.

“You get to meet people in-person—you know what they’re about, you know if you want to work with them, if you get a good vibe,” Guzhuna said. “I feel like human connection adds a lot of value…to a company, because in the end, we are humans, we have feelings, we want to feel appreciated by a company.” SV

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.