In my previous post I talked about networking, the professional socializing so often dreaded by introverts. To further illustrate how natural and even potentially pleasant networking can be, this week I am offering real life examples of how it brought me success. I’ll first provide a little context: when I am not working as an academic tutor, mentoring, or writing, I am off trying to build a company to make people healthier. These vignettes draw from my experiences with that endeavor.
In making the decision to start a company with a group of student co-founders, I consciously chose to take a substantial pay cut after graduation. This means that I did not try to find a full-time job complete with free swag, a stocked fridge, and company outings to Legal Seafood. Thus, I was always on the lookout for ways to bolster the income I had already set aside for this year of nurturing a fledgling venture that could not yet provide me food or rent.
Thankfully, through the program that initially funded my team to start this whole adventure, I had an office I could base myself in whenever I needed a workspace. As I started frequenting this office more and more, I was steadily introduced to each member of the various groups that worked there. One day, I went with my main contact there (who I will call “Anna”) to get an ID processed so that I could have regular access to the office. As we waited for my picture and information to finish processing, we started talking.
“So, how are things going?” Anna asked.
“Ah well, great, lots of work all the time,” I replied with a wry smile. “Since I graduated I decided to commit to this project full time, so that means no “real” job right?”
Anna laughed. “Geez, I don’t know how you do that! I mean, it’s a great project but, well, I couldn’t do it. I feel so bad!”
“It’s not so bad when you care so much about what you’re trying to do,” I assured her with a chuckle. “But it doesn’t mean I’m not looking for other things to…you know…bring in some spending money.”
“Yeah, I wish we could have paid you for this project instead of just the money to develop the technology. Oh actually, wait, you know, you met Paola last week and she is just swamped. She’s the only one on the Innovation side. Maybe with your skill sets…?”
I contained my excitement and said, “Yeah, that sounds great. Can you shoot her an email and connect us? I’d love to hear more about what’s going on there.”
This little exchange might sound contrived, but I assure you, it went as naturally as brunch on a Sunday morning. Fast forward another week: I had in my hand the opportunity to define part of a new innovation program’s curriculum using the skills I had gained in my graduate education, and an offer to come in to help with another program as needed. What’s the bottom line? I was around this office for 5 weeks before a chance conversation, and another after it, brought to me both a contracted project and a freelance consulting offer. This was “schmoozing” in action, and more importantly, it really came from consciously making an extra effort to connect with the people around me, and not being afraid to share details about my situation and what I wanted to do. Many people really do want to help if they can!
So as to not go on too long with another story, I’ll summarize one more recent chance encounter. I had agreed to scope out a local organization that hosts competitions for new innovative companies, and this scoping required my attendance at a 6-hour event in the Seaport District of Boston. It sounds impressive and prestigious, but my thought going in was still, Wow I don’t know how I’m going to get through 6 hours, I probably won’t even know anyone there. That was the introvert speaking up, ever-present even in my adult self. What happened instead? I went to the event and told myself to relax, to be friendly and outgoing, and genuinely connect with others. I ended up running into someone I had met a handful of times through various school government groups. Though we had probably only spoken directly once before, we swapped stories over breakfast about what we were currently doing as if we were the best of friends, and he pledged to put me in touch with a friend who led a software solutions company. I had not even let on that my team was seeking a change in partnerships, and this new solution was handed to me just based on the connection of one thing to another in the mind of my conversation partner. I credit this good fortune to his expert “schmoozing”, which he had presumably groomed well in his time in the finance industry after graduate school. So there you have it – the true benefits of taking the initiative to speak up, be yourself, and welcome others you have barely met into your life.
When it comes down to it, networking can be thought of as thoughtfully vocalizing what you would write in a statement of purpose or application for school (hence, our Application Consultants can be great resources to define a self “pitch” with!). You want to explain your story without taking too long, but still show how you shine and why you deserve accolades and a leg up. You want to assert your opinions and accomplishments, but not in an arrogant and self-obsessed way. This can happen out loud, in conversation with real people in front of you. It’s all a matter of putting yourself out there.