A big part of my success at networking is linking my past success to my future. But how do you do that when you are in the middle of your story?
Make a goal for your future
Even if your goals or interests are changing by the month, it is much easier for people to help you if they know how to help you. For example, I began my academic career talking about space science. And it was very easy for my mentors and advisors to keep an eye out for future work and projects in the space science industry and alert me to it. Today, my focus in not space science but using the same principle for my interests today, I am still getting great opportunities.
Keep it simple
It can be hard to fit all of your interests into one sentence. But I really encourage you to keep the ideas simple or to add bigger umbrellas. Find the common links between all of your projects. I used to say I was really interested in collaboration in emerging tech. And then as I learned more about the person I was talking to at that moment, I could drill down into specific examples.
Show your work
As a student, I quickly bridged the gap between having little to some experience and you can too. If you want to know the best way to demonstrate your interest it is easy to build something small like a minimum viable product (MVP). I have had the opportunity to recruit for a few companies, looking at student resumes and asking questions. The ones that stood out where the resumes that demonstrated their interest in the area without a big company logo behind them. Instead of just saying, I’m interested in Data Science, they mentioned a project they had done on their own. I know students feel that that the projects they do on their own time are not impressive because it wasn’t for a flashy intern program, but that’s the stuff that gets you into a flashy program. That’s literally the key!
Have high-quality conversations
When I was new to networking events I had small experience to rely on. What does a great conversation in that setting look like? I found out it looks exactly like a conversation you would have with a friend that goes on for hours! If we have some interest in common we will pick it apart sometimes over several days. In networking events I tend to ask more broad questions besides where do you work, what do you do, or where do you live? I ask questions like these:
What do you like most about your work?
Where do you spend the most time?
How have you found life-work balance?
These questions often make a person sit back, or shift their weight to their heels and I know I have struck a gold mine. It becomes a real conversation, and in the process, I learn more about their professional life. This gives me the chance to really connect with them on an idea or a skill which can lead to a second private conversation outside of the event.
One more note on networking conversations, I have heard that people are turned off by the idea of networking because it feels fake or dis-ingenious. And if that is true for you, make real conversation about a person’s real values. We could stand around and pretend that getting dressed one evening to stand around and talk to strangers in order to get something from them was going to be the highlight of our week. OR we could seek to give as much as we take. Catalog your abilities to add to the conversation and give your own resources whatever they might be. This doesn’t have to be giving your time and skill to their project (I rarely volunteer for something at a networking event), but it can be your knowledge of a website, idea or even your blog. Listening or having a long enough conversation to understand a need will make your networking conversations that much more effective.