Career Growth, Confidence

Learn How to Network

As a newly graduated PhD I went to a few networking lunches and was overwhelmed with undergraduates and M.A’s giving me their business cards just because I had graduated. At the end of the lunch I had 13 business cards and I didn’t know who any of them were.

I tossed out the business cards and went to another networking meeting.

I saw the same thing occur, except it was PhD’s throwing their cards to the post-doctoral students and newly hired Professors. I asked one Professor what he does with all the business cards and he just discreetly put a napkin over them and slid them into the wastebasket. That’s the hard truth.

Networking works both ways, meaning there must be a mutual benefit to both parties, otherwise what’s the point?

You must learn to get comfortable with networking, and do it in a new way.

Find common ground! When you’re seated next to someone at a dinner, conference or meeting, take the opportunity to get to know them, ask them about their work and what drives them. Try to find some common ground to connect with. Don’t start every encounter with the mentality of “what can this person do for me?” –people see right through that. I’ve been in the middle of conversations with people and see their eyes dart around looking for a better more successful person to speak with. It doesn’t feel good, so don’t do it to others.

Stay in touch! You must feed your networking contacts. You don’t need to talk to them weekly or anything, but don’t let a year go by either. Feed them and they’ll grow (sounds like you’re planting tomatoes or something, but it’s true, I swear!). –If you don’t keep the conversation going with your contacts, they’ll cease to be of any use to either of you.

Diversify! You want a diverse group of networking contacts, look to grow your contacts and friendships beyond your own business or academic circles. You need people in different sectors with different opinions than yours that can help provide feedback or advice when needed.

Reciprocate! If you see something of value for one of your contacts, pass it along. It’s that simple. A quick email, tweet or text (“ Saw this and thought it might be of some use for you…..”). When someone sends something of value my way, I always respond with a polite ‘thank-you.’ and that’s how you keep your contacts going.

Reach out to people you admire. Just because you don’t know someone doesn’t mean you can’t congratulate them on their latest success, or tell them how much you enjoyed their book/blog/artwork/article, etc. It’s great if they respond back, but sometimes they won’t. That’s OK. You were just sharing your passion and enthusiasm for their work. Keep doing this.

Socialize with different people.  Force yourself to attend different out-of-your-comfort-zone functions. Get to know a wide variety of people. (Artists, musicians, philanthropists, economists, educators, business people, entrepreneurs, etc.) –Go to art exhibits, book signings, parties, and more. This is WAY easier said than done, I know, because I struggle with this also. Some of my role models make sure they socialize 1- 2 times per week. –I can’t handle that level of frequency, so I’m aiming for 1-2 times per month. But I have to remind myself to do it and actually schedule it into my calendar, otherwise I won’t do it.

Socializing more often with diverse groups of people and businesses serves 3 main purposes:

(1) You need to grow your network;

(2) You want to learn from others; (. You need to know what’s happening in other sectors of life, who’s working on cutting-edge stuff, who has a new book out, what’s the new way of thinking about this issue?)

(3) You need to make sure others know what you’re doing. The next time someone needs a research assistant, will they think of you? The next time someone needs some consulting work done, will they think of you? –that’s what you want to happen. Learn from others, and make sure they learn about you.

Send a note!  If you’ve had a memorable conversation with someone at a conference, meeting, chance encounter, then maximize the moment by sending them a note saying how nice it was to meet and how much you enjoyed speaking about X, Y, Z. Make the extra effort, because most people won’t, and it’s an easy way to stand out from the sea of mediocrity.