From the diary of a Networking Novice – A few tips on Effective Networking
I have always been a shy person-mixing with people never came easily to me. It didn’t particularly bother me, however, since I wasn’t planning on becoming the next Ms. Congeniality at the Miss World contest. I had as normal a social life my other peers and fared well at my workplace since I always delivered on my assignments. In a nutshell, I was perfectly satisfied with this aspect of my personality and saw no reason to change. All of this came crashing down when I joined an MBA program in one of the top global B Schools, because, suddenly a single word became my nemesis-“networking”.
“Networking” soon became one of the oft used MBA jargons, right up there with “Blue sea innovation”, “net present value” and “strategic realignment”. Professors assigned us to “mixed nationality” groups to facilitate a healthy interaction and help us build our networks within the cohort. The Career Management team extolled the virtues of networking tirelessly, and told us that it was one of the best ways to land our dream post MBA job. While I wouldn’t have paid heed to any of it, what worried me was what I saw on the recruitment event calendar that had been put up for my seniors. Unlike India, where companies came to campus, interviewed students and selected them, here, they simply came and interacted with the students without any formal interview process. If they liked a student, he/she was then invited for further interviews. Most banking and financial service companies, and even a lot of MNCs conducted “assessment centers” as one of their placement stages, which required students to perform various assignments in groups while being observed by the selectors. However, they were assessed not only on their performance in the assignments, but also on the quality of their interaction with other candidates and company executives present during the assessment center.
With all this emphasis being laid on networking, I began to seek out the reasons for my strong aversion towards networking. I realized it was mainly for two reasons-first, it seemed similar to the Indian concept of “contacts” i.e. people got jobs not because they deserved them, but because they knew the right people in the right places, which went against my firm belief in meritocracy. Second, I was very reserved and going up to strangers (who I knew would be judging me) and making conversation with them didn’t appeal to me at all. However, the cliché of “When in Rome, do as the romans would” held true here as well, and I realized I would need to change to some extent.
I began seeking out mentors within the alums and career management team who could help me overcome my inhibitions. Some of these conversations changed my opinion. I realized that networking needn’t necessarily be done with an agenda in mind; sometimes, it just helped to know people, hear their perspectives and broaden one’s horizons. Moreover, recruiters weren’t foolish-they wouldn’t hire a smooth talker who wasn’t capable of performing. While knowing people sometimes helped put a foot in the door, it didn’t necessarily assure one of a job. Slowly and gradually, I started attending some of these networking events to get a flavor. I used to stand in a corner and observe my peers as they effortlessly moved from person to person and made conversation. I also observed the body language and response of the recruiters and began to understand what was working with them and what wasn’t.
I have listed down few of these observations which may help networking novices similar to yours truly:
1) Dress suitably – Sounds like a no brainer? Well actually, you would be surprised to know how many people ignore this piece of seemingly obvious advice. I have seen people dress very inappropriately-casual clothes, unironed suits, shockingly short skirts. Gentlemen, when the invites state “formal dressing: suit and tie”, they really do mean “suit and tie”. Ladies, please dress to impress and not seduce. The fact that you have put in effort to dress well goes to show that you are interested and care about the people you would be meeting.
2) Be genuine, honest and humble – Sitting in my corner and sipping my drink, I was amazed at the sudden change in my peers when they began to make conversation with recruiters. Fake accents, name dropping, exaggerated prior work experience-I have heard it all. I also noticed that recruiters could easily tell who came across as genuine and who didn’t and became bored listeners within a span of a few minutes. However, the ones who were attentive, responsive and polite, got the full attention of people they spoke to.
Furthermore, to use one of my favorite Enid Blyton quotes, “Mind your Ps and Qs”. Sending a polite and succinct thank you mail after a meeting/telephonic conversation always leaves a good impression.
3) Be well read and well informed – If I had to give a single piece of advice for successful networking, this would be the one. If one is well read and can make conversation on a range of topics, he/she would always earn the respect of the people he/she speaks to. A word of caution though-please do not come across as an obnoxious know-it-all who launches into soliloquys on all topics. Or the vociferously argumentative high school debater who will oppose everything just to have the last word. There is a fine line between being erudite and insufferable and make sure you don’t cross it.
4) Being a pest never got anyone anywhere – I have seen peers who literally shove their resumes into the hands of the recruiters and go on and on about their work experience, skills and knowledge and how they are perfect for the organization. It is good to be eager and confident, but don’t make a pest out of yourself.
5) Binge alert – I would be the first to acknowledge that being a student isn’t easy-one typically has loans to pay off and hence is on a shoe string budget. Luxuries such as expensive deserts, cheese fondue and wine are fantasies that suddenly seem to come alive during networking events. However, please do not go overboard on the food and alcohol. I have known of classmates who have got quite riotous after a few drinks too many, and have created a bad impression not only of themselves, but also of the school.
6) Go out and speak to people – If you are as scared of talking to new people as I used to be, then this one should be helpful. I began to make small talk with people I came across in my day to day life-the checkout clerk at the grocery store, the girl who made my subway sandwich, the person sitting next to me in the bus..you get the drift. I realized that my fear could only be overcome by interacting with as many new people as possible. I spoke to people who I knew wouldn’t judge me and this gave me the confidence to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
It has been two years since I began this journey of change. I have come a long way from being the person who absolutely abhorred networking. Today, I enjoy meeting new people and hearing about their work and their lives. I no longer scorn “networking nights”, but view them as an opportunity to know the jobs available and the kind of people one may end up working for. While I am definitely not a nuanced networker, I don’t think I am a novice either.
– The author wishes to stay anonymous. The author works abroad and has completed his/her MBA from a top foreign business school.
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