Networking. Ugh. What an awful word. At this point it seems entirely reminiscent to me of a room full of greedy vultures. However, it must be understood that networking is both important and valuable, and can be fun when carried out with the right technique and motivation.
After having truly lived in SF for one month now, I’ve experienced many sides of the social phenomenon referred to as networking. I’ve attended conferences where individuals whip out business cards before explaining their professions, parties where networking takes place in the form of rounds of shots, and casual, low key, delightful coffee dates. I’m personally a fan of small scale, personal networking, as I find it much less intimidating. Regardless of my preferences for type of networking, here are some tips I’ve garnered and gathered from my experiences networking over the last month (and two years).
1. Make a solid first impression. The most crucial (and difficult) part of networking (or interviewing) is making a solid first impression. A good first impression can make you stand out from 100 other people, or make you stick in the mind of a founder or investor as someone they’d like to employ or invest in. When you’re approaching people you’ve never met keep in mind that they have no idea how shy or nervous you are. Put on a happy face, present a firm handshake, and strike up conversation. You really have nothing to lose! Lead with topics you’re passionate and knowledgable about, and make eye contact. Bottom line: Demonstrate your strengths as genuinely as possible, and if you aren’t charismatic, fake it!
2. Demonstrate your ability to listen. Although this goes along with making a solid first impression, it is so important I wanted to stress it separately. Memorable conversations occur when people feel a connection to the person they are talking to. This happens when they feel that their thoughts and words are being valued and respected. Communication is crucial in the workplace, so demonstrating that you are able to communicate will set you apart. Bottom line: Listen to what other people are saying, don’t just wait for your turn to speak.
3. Seek out the wisdom of successful individuals. Having recently graduated college I’ve been hearing two expressions quite often. The first is, “Find a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The second is, “Ask for a job, and you’ll receive advice. Ask for advice and you’ll receive a job.” My recent project has been seeking out successful professionals working in fields I’m interested in, and asking them how they got to where they are today. More to the point I’ve been asking, “Where were you when you were 22?” I would recommend this to anyone in the process of job hunting, or even looking for a career change. The smartest thing to do is seek out the wisdom of those who have already gone through it. The even smarter thing to do is to try and learn from their mistakes. Bottom line: The most valuable lessons come from experience, and most people are happy to share what they’ve learned.
4. Utilize social media, to a degree. I find Linkedin requests from individuals I’ve never met to be one of the great tech etiquette faux paus of our day. Sending a connection request to someone you met at a networking event is great. Be sure to include a personalized message, and even better if you can reference something you spoke about at the event. When heading to a meeting with a specific person, following that individual’s Twitter or checking out their blog is a great way to find out what topics they find most important, and what they are most knowledgable about. There is a clear line, however, between finding out someone’s career history versus where they took their last vacation. Also, wait until the end of the conference or coffee date to add someone on Linkedin. The only loophole (in my opinion) for adding someone you’ve never met in person is if there has been extensive email correspondence or some other channel of online communication. Bottom line: Never do something online that you wouldn’t do offline.
5. Be appreciative. Regardless of whether you’ve managed to snag five minutes of an investor’s time at a conference, or an hour of a professional’s time for a coffee meeting, it is important to understand one thing: time equals money. Those five minutes or hour of time taken to talk with you is an investment in its own right. Recognizing this fact and genuinely thanking the person who gave you their time is both courteous and respectful. Taking care to adequately thank someone also encourages the continuation of the relationship, and ends the conversation on the right note. Bottom line: Gratitude and respect go hand in hand.
6. Seek out networking opportunities. Finding the right networks to engage with can be difficult. Conferences, events, and meetups are all great ways to network, and they can be a lot of fun. A great way to start is to pick a topic or cause that you are interested in, and find a local meetup group to meet other interested individuals. Finding these groups and events is as easy as using the internet, literally. Bottom line: Only you can position yourself to gain from valuable networking situations.
That’s all for now, folks, so go forth and network!
Ps. Thanks to my sister Emmalie for the idea of this blog post.