Networking in Brussels: how does it work?

Article published on April 13, 2012
Article published on April 13, 2012
By Appolonia Benoist ‘Hey, nice to meet you! What do you do in Brussels? Do you have a business card?’ These are typical questions you are sure to hear at a so-called networking event in Brussels. Brussels, a city where expats (probably attracted by the European Bubble) represent a great part of the population.
A city where making social connections -and then networking- is essential to feel better integrated. But, what is exactly networking? Apparently, it is an ‘exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions and specifically the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business’.

Networking : purely interested interactions?

To figure it out by myself, I went to one of the famous networking events in Brussels: the ‘Soirée Internationale’, monthly held by the former MEP Frank Schwalba-Hoth, a real pro for the subject. At his soirées, he gathers 60 people (mostly not knowing each other) for a dinner. The guests are coming from everywhere, in and around Brussels: civil servants and assistants from the European Institutions, movie makers, musicians, entrepreneurs, journalists and even interns like me… As Frank says, ‘Interns are future Commissioners, MEPs and CEOs. Do not underestimate them!’

During the evening, I met Lars, director of his own communications company: ‘Networking for me is simply to connect with people.’ But if it is so simple, why does it have such a negative image?

The bad sides of networking

There is a big difference between pure business networking and social networking. “Being asked about your job from Monday to Friday, fine, but not during the weekend, please!” said Sarah, a journalist from London. She had a point!

In some events, networking can be pushed too far and reduced to quick superficial exchanges. But fortunately, others like Frank’s soirées cultivate a real ‘sharing thoughts’ philosophy. Alfredo, intern at the European Parliament and newcomer in Brussels, has changed his mind on networking: ‘Although it can be just a cold business thing, I have experienced in Brussels that it can also be something nice, useful both for your professional and social life. Meeting new people is always interesting, even if you don’t get a job at the end!

Therefore, becoming a perfect networker in Brussels is not very complicated! Just be genuine and natural; have some business cards to give out; go to talk to people and just see what happens. As Lars told me, ‘Maybe something of interest comes out, maybe not. But it is just great to have a conversation.’ Living the Networking experience in Brussels is just about giving it a try …