“Network,” they told us.
The simple instruction inspired some of the most creative openers I’ve overheard. The 21-year-old undergraduate walked up to the tall man and said, “You’re tall. I’m from Nepal. We have the tallest mountain and the shortest man.”
At Starbucks’ Roy Street Coffee and Tea, a group of us –20 South Asian exchange students at the University of Washington– found ourselves in the midst of our very first networking opportunity – a casual meet with the producers of “Finding Hillywood”, before the screening at the Harvard Exit Theater across the street.
My 22-year-old friend, Hari, sat down in the red armchair next to me, and sighed. “This is difficult.” I smiled; after having talked with two people, I was recharging.
We looked around the room at friends and strangers, tilted heads and tilted glasses, held that way as if by the swelling waves of voices that were louder than they were comfortable being, and smiles so genuine, they seemed independent of the faces and eyes that produced them.
For many of us face-to-face networking isn’t the most natural skill in the world – especially in a world where it has become synonymous with self-promoting.
As a writer, one of the things I associate so intimately with the craft is a process of retreating into myself, which it facilitates. I’ve always loved the idea that I could write words which would speak for themselves; words which would represent me long after I’d met them. When I began trying on the ‘journalism’ hat, it had my byline along its rim – not a picture of me staring at my feet, in a room full of strangers.
But if I’ve learned anything over the last month from the many journalists I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet, and work with, it’s that we have to adapt to both, the changing cultures of our professional fields, as well as the aspects we might not have necessarily contemplated.
So, without further ado, from one awkward networker to another, I present to you,
The 5 Things Every Networker Needs to Know:
1) Don’t look to get hired, look to make valuable connections – According to Emma O’Neill-Myers, Asst. Director for Employer Relations at the Career Center, U. of Washington, one of the most common mistakes people make is to look at networking transactionally.
“Talk to someone who is doing something you might be interested in, something that is related to what you love doing. Looking to meet job criteria while networking is less productive than you’d imagine,” she says.
2) Use the connections you already have – Often, approaching a complete stranger who doesn’t know who you are, can be intimidating. Look at the friends and connections of people you already know. Ask for an introduction, a link.
3) Be specific – Think smaller. Approaching people who are doing things that interest you in general is a useful technique, but when speaking about yourself, always make sure to be clear about why you’re making the connection, and how you’d like to use it.
4) Articulate what you do, and what you would love to do – Talk about the work you’re currently doing, or the experience you have. Mention what it specifically involved, and what you learned from it.
5) Follow-up – Don’t let the acquaintance go to waste. Follow-up. Email. Stay on the radar. Even if you don’t have something you’d like to explicitly discuss, send that email saying, “Hi, it was nice to meet you at so-and-so place. I enjoyed learning about the work you’re doing, and look forward to keeping in-touch.”