When I ask my mentees what they think about “networking”, their responses range from “I don’t know how to do it” to “it’s just not for me”. If I had to take a guess, networking is probably one of those things like public speaking that invokes more fear in people than eating a 100-year old egg on Fear Factor!
In my pre-business school days, I used to head to the bathroom at the start of every Networking event I attended to give myself a pep talk before heading out there to face the hostile crowd…just kidding about the crowd, not kidding about the bathroom pep talk :)
Here are some of my experiences over the years that I hope will be useful to others who are new to Networking and may not know how to get started:
- “Just show up, you can always leave whenever you want” — a great piece of advice given to me by a Ross MBA alum before I headed off for my first year in b-school. Give yourself a chance to stay at the event for at least half an hour — that is sufficient time to decide for yourself if you want to stay. 80% of the times I showed up, I ended up staying for >1 hour after meeting 2–3 interesting people and left on a higher note than when I arrived for the event.
- Organically network— I manage and grow my network through volunteering, participating in professional events that I am interested in, attending social gatherings in the community, catching up with friends on a regular basis, and sending Christmas greetings to my friends + mentors + network. The goal is to constantly put yourself out there by organically attending events that interest you and meeting people as a welcome side effect.
- Be the earliest person at an event and/or the last person to leave — this is my top strategy for introverts. I am neither loud nor do I enjoy inserting myself into circles/conversations. Being the earliest or one of the earliest allows me to have one on ones with people who start walking in. People also join the circle I started organically and I start feeling comfortable enough after a while to exit the circle and join another one.
- Ask a friend who is great at networking to bring you along to a networking event and show you how it’s done — I tagged along with a friend during happy hour at business school and she showed me how to join and exit conversation circles gracefully. Best 2 hours that I spent at a happy hour in my entire life :)
- Be prepared to have a few awkward experiences — networking is like riding a bicycle. You just have to get out there and do it. I had a few awkward experiences and I remember my first “win” when I struck up a conversation with a recruiter and he ended up giving me an interview slot and a free pair of sunglasses! That feeling of victory was so sweet and once you reach that, you are set for more networking wins.
- Learn from the experts — I highly recommend “The MBA Guide to Networking like a Rockstar” by Jaymin Patel (https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Networking-Like-Rockstar-Relationships/dp/061548705X). Read the book and watch his youtube video. He gave a talk at Ross about networking that provided me with helpful strategies that I still utilize (e.g if you want to get noticed, sit in front or at the center of the aisles). Another good book I came across is “Captivate — the Science of Succeeding with People” by Vanessa Van Edwards (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01L8C4WKC/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0)
Now that I have shared some tips, I sincerely hope that you will try out some of these tips and experience —enhanced confidence in social settings, the joy of meeting new people and seeing possibilities “magically” open up. Good luck!