Networking is one of the most important activities that students in business school can do outside of class. Whether you are on the lookout for that first job after graduation or are trying to maintain your network and look for new opportunities, making connections with new people is good for everyone. That’s not to say it is easy though. I asked two of the best networkers that I know, 2012 MIM graduate Ryan Reichert, and current MIM student Mengyao Luan to offer some advice on how to approach networking.
The goal is always to meet new people. Especially when you’re getting started this, and you’ll want to continue to grow your network as you become more experienced. Those later connections will become more and more focused though. For those new to official “networking” it can be daunting or make you nervous — I still get anxious myself, even! Set a goal to meet and connect with just ONE new person at an event, vs. worrying about meeting as many people as possible. You’ll have a better time, make deeper connections and alleviate some of the stress.
Aside from that, I think the most important thing is to take it seriously, and have a goal of legitimately connecting with others and caring about your network. I’m sure that often people meet others just for the sake of growing their LinkedIn connections, but curation is just as important. You want to have some level of investment in the other person, and only then should you expect them to return that courtesy.
Also, look for ways that you can help your network vs. worrying about how they’re going to help you. Your job is to connect, engage, and curate — the benefit will come with time and attention, and it’s not wise to force it. Focus more on what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Perhaps a bit altruistic or wishy-washy to some, but this is what I believe.
The most successful networkers:
- Follow up and check-in
- Are genuine
- Ask questions
- Look for ways to help their connections
- Facilitate introductions to others
Things to avoid:
- Grabbing business cards and never following up; ie: going for quantity over quality
- Taking up too much of someone’s time (they might have other goals) at an event
- Asking new connections for something right away
- Being superficial or making empty promises or commitments
Best networking events in Portland: Definitely PSU’s C2C (Connect to Community); outside of that I’d highly recommend pdxMindshare events. Awesome opportunities to connect with folks. I don’t go to many others, but there are certainly industry specific events that folks should look for as well. Don’t forget to ask mentors/connections for recommendations, too, or even just for personal introductions to do informational interviews, etc.
I still remember the first time I attended a networking event in the U.S.–I could barely talk! I was so nervous that I stumbled a lot! Networking might be a new concept to many of the international students, so being nervous and uncomfortable is normal. When things like this happen, just go sit quietly and watch what other “intermediate” and “advanced” networkers do. So, my first suggestion for “beginning” networkers and non-native English speakers is to WATCH! Watch what others do, and practice at future events when you can.
After getting over the language barrier and the nervousness issue, which means you already know what networking is and how it works, you should set up goals for each networking event. I had different goals for different networking events, and at different stages of my professional career life. But one thing in common is you want to meet and TALK with people. So, my second suggestion is to prepare an elevator speech that could help you start a conversation naturally. If the first couple of sentences go smoothly, it will help you relieve your stress and be more confident throughout the whole conversation.
As there are certain things you should do, there are also certain things you should not to do at a networking event. Don’t end the conversation right away when you find the person you are talking to is not your “target”. I know some people have read the attendees’ list before going to the event, and might have had a list of people they want to talk to. But be nice and polite to other attendees as well, because the world is small, and networking means one person could help you reach many other people. One fun thing about networking is you never know who knows whom. I have found that connections from Minnesota, where I went to college, could help refer me to connections here in Portland!
Another thing that I would suggest avoiding is asking for internships/jobs right away. Networking is always a two-way thing. It takes time to know someone and being too utilitarian is not the way to keep a long relationship. Successful networkers can keep long relationships with the people they network with, and can help each other refer sources and connections. So, try to ask “How can I help you?” before asking “How can you help me?”
Portland is really a small city, and a lot of opportunities go by word of mouth. I often heard events referred by some connections. So, make sure to keep contact with your old connections and maintain it. Also, make sure to check the School of Business Weekly Bulletin–a great source of events–almost every day!