Networking, the fun way

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When I was around 25 or so, my dad gave me one of those fatherly advices that seemed pointless at the time, but proved valuable later in life. It’s a nasty habit of his. He told me that having a professional network is essential in a career, and he suggested I start building my own network. Of course, I did no such thing.

Why not? Well, I didn’t (and still don’t) like being in large groups, and the idea of approaching a stranger in a crowd seemed like a horror to me. Also, it felt dishonest, as if I was trying to sell that person something, or impose myself on somebody else. Blegh!

This started to change a few years later. I was, at the time, regularly approached by recruiters looking for new tech talent. I often took those calls, and particularly enjoyed the ones with hiring managers. Hmm!

Things really improved when I was about half-way through my PhD. I was considering what my next career-step would be, and – somehow – ended up not responding to vacancies. Instead, I contacted people at companies I might want to work for, and asked them whether they were willing to share some insights. Often, they were willing.

Well, this got out of hand. See, I really enjoyed meeting new people and learning new things. I often sent a connection invite to somebody on LinkedIn, with messages like ‘Hey, I came across you profile, and I’m impressed by the diversity of your experience. How did you end up taking that path? Are you perhaps open to getting acquainted and sharing experiences?’.

Just to be clear: I mean every word I say in those invites. I’m truly interested or intrigued. And you know what? People really like talking about their interests! I don’t have the numbers, but like 85% of people accept. Also, people tend to remember the sincerity of my request.

Offline, I also went through a transformation: I discovered Meetup, and later EventBrite. These sites offer a wide range of opportunities for meeting people in real life. The first time I went to a meetup (on Blockchain, I think) on my own, I was a bit nervous. But once there, I listened to the presentation, had one hundred questions, and felt at home immediately.

Even the larger events (with big crowds) are on my list these days. Admittedly, I still don’t like large crowds, but I’ve found a way to deal with it. I simply move through the crowd and ignore the lot of them. See, there are plenty of opportunities to meet people in a less-crowded setting during those events (see my tips, below).

For instance, most events I go to have stands by companies, and I tend to spend my time there. It’s much more silent, and you get personalized attention for a short while. And sometimes, the day is just not right and the stars are misaligned, in which case I find a free corner and read my book.

So you see, being a bit shy-ish doesn’t have to stop you from networking. Just follow your curiosity, start small, and find one person to talk to. Then find another. Take a break when you have to, and stay true to yourself. You’ll find your way!

Networking, for me, is a great way to satisfy my curiosity and to meet new people. Most importantly, it is stil helping me with one of my greatest challenges: meeting people who are like me. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly, but I’ve always felt like a bit of an odd-ball wherever I went. Lately, I seem to be finding other me’s: people I feel connected with. It’s a very gratifying experience.

If networking is not your thing, but you’re looking to find a way forward, I hope the post above gave some inspiration. To top things off, I’ve compiled a few tips that may be helpful:

  • Start networking using a topic that you are truly curious about. A hobby, a person, a guilty pleasure – whatever. Find somebody to network with over that topic.
  • I use LinkedIn a lot to connect with people. I almost always include a personalized message, and ensure that I really mean what I say and that I’d like to talk to that person. Don’t fake it – people will notice!
  • Actively listen to presentations, and ask questions. In particular, if there is something you don’t understand during the talk, just ask.
  • Do you know that awkward moment when a talk ends, the speaker asks whether there are any questions, and silence ensues? Take that opportunity, and ask the first question. People tend to be shy to be first, but after the first question, others typically follow. The speaker will be grateful, and will remember you.
  • If you have questions left, or would simply like to compliment the speaker, then go talk to her/him after the talk. It may involve some awkward waiting around, though 😉
  • Share knowledge and ideas, and connect people whenever you can. For me, next to learning new things, this is my greatest enjoyment.
  • At large events, I sometimes sit at a table where someone is already sitting. That often leads to a introduction, and a short talk.
  • Talk to people outside of your area of expertise. It does wonders.

Of course, underlying this list is that one constant requirement: curiosity. Without it, the list is meaningless.

Thanks for reading this post! If you have additional tips, please let me know via LinkedIn and I’ll share them here. In particular, I’m always looking for new events to visit and new people to meet. Also, if you know of a type of job that revolves around networking (yes, I like it that much), please let me know: I’m looking for inspiration 🙂