December 2018 Features

How to Get Connected as a Young Professional in Gainesville

Written By: Marc Lefton

Building a professional network is a critical part of your career development. And it’s not just “Hi, I want to add you to my network on LinkedIn,” but it’s making real, meaningful relationships that can lead to great opportunities down the road.

Moving to Gainesville from NYC a few years ago, I was surprised that when I needed to hire someone for my small business, I didn’t get any replies when I advertised online. In NYC, I’d be flooded with hundreds of choices. But here, I discovered, you need to know people and ask for referrals.

Not only can having a solid professional network help you get a future job, but it can make you more valuable to your current employer. Being the go-to person who knows a lot of people to fill a new role or get critical advice and information can make you a linchpin in your organization.

There are a few different ways to meet a pretty diverse circle of friends in the area. The Midnight Bar downtown has a Wednesday night Foosball tournament, where you’re paired with a new partner and opponent for every game. There’s no better way to break the ice than to be foisted with them into intense three-minute-long games against other strangers. Thursdays, there’s Gainesville Language Exchange, where you can practice your language skills with an international crowd. has a number of groups with regular events to connect with people. One of the most active is Gainesville Young Professionals, which sometimes has multiple options each week.

There are groups for just about any interest, even for those interests you may not know you have yet. As a professional, learning more about marketing, WordPress and other skills from peers at these groups will help you become more well-rounded. Some great meetups include the Digital Marketing Meetup and Women Inspiring Successful Entrepreneurs (WISE).

There are also a number of professional associations that host events for different groups and industries. If you’re a graphic designer, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) hosts informative events and fun mixers with a design theme. The Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) hosts events for PR and marketing.

The Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce also frequently hosts events that are open to the public. For entrepreneurs and people in tech, Startup Hour hosts regular mixers, while SharpSpring has a biweekly buzz event every other Thursday. Other groups with regular events include Gainesville Black Professionals, Gainesville Area Women’s Network and BNI.

You can also work on honing your public speaking skills in front of a supportive group of peers at the Gainesville chapter of Toastmaster International.

Alachua County Emerging Leaders is our local young professionals’ organization. ACEL’s mission is to keep young professionals connected, informed and involved. There are free monthly happy hours open to the public, as well as opportunities to get to know new people through a variety of social events, community service opportunities and volunteering on one of the organization’s committees.

Volunteering for ACEL’s committees can lead you to learning new skills you might not have an opportunity to acquire while at work, such as how to create different aspects of marketing campaigns, organize events or work with local politicians on public policy issues.

For me, it was one of the best options to meet like-minded people when I first moved here. I liked it so much I joined the board last year, and now I’m the president.

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