I am regular reader and a fan. I’m about to graduate from my grad school program. You talk a lot about the importance of networking. I feel like I’ve been somewhat insulated from the reality and necessity of building a network and was wondering if you could give me some ideas of what I should be doing.
All the ideas I have heard so far make me feel awkward.
Thank you so much for the kind words—they mean a lot to me!
Although I know for sure that building, nurturing, and leveraging a network of relationships is critical to success, I am by no means the expert on how to do this. The guy who is the expert is Keith Ferrazzi, who wrote Never Eat Alone and recently came out with an updated and expanded version. The title alone tells the story—which I hate, because I really cherish eating alone. My idea of a perfect lunch is sitting at my desk and watching a TED talk, so the fact that I crave quiet time may make me well suited to share some ideas.
Let’s start with the word. Stop using the word network and replace it with the word relationships. I used to think business was some mysterious thing that people in suits did until I heard it defined as “the exchange of a product or service between people.” So when I talk about networking, I am really referring to simply paying attention to your relationships—the ones you have, the ones you would like to have, and the ones you need to have.
Start with the ones you have. Ask yourself To what extent have I really stayed in touch and built connections with the people I already know? Liking someone’s post on Facebook doesn’t count. Picking up the phone and making a date to have coffee, to watch a game, or to take a walk—those all count. You actually have to put yourself out there. So, yes, it is work. Treat it that way.
Stay in touch. Tell people when you move. Keep your snail mail address up to date with folks. Young people typically are terrible at this, but it helps people who care about you keep track of where you are in space—especially if you move to a place where you already know people. When you graduate, send a card with the news and where you are going to anyone whose actual address you can muster. You will be one of two people in your class who do this.
When you meet a new person, follow up with them. Connect on social media, obviously, but also get actual contact information so you can email links to articles or a great TED talk you think might interest them. I met an amazing guy on a train once and told him about my favorite magazine. I ended up sending him a whole pile of back issues. It didn’t cost much and I made a new—and, as it turned out, very influential—friend.
I may sound like your mother, but if you have an interview or someone does you any kind of favor, send them a handwritten thank you note. And then let them know where you land. I have become an interviewer for my alma mater, Georgetown University, and I am astonished at the lack of follow-up from my interviewees. I spent an hour of my time which each of them, and I have not gotten a single thank you note. I’m pretty sure none of them will think to contact me when they are accepted somewhere to let me know where they have decided to attend. The reality is that I fell in love with each and every one of them and would do anything in my power to help them. For them, I will forever be an untapped resource.
All this is to say that you never know where help is going to come from. People generally love to help if they can. Neuroscience research shows that pleasure centers in the brain light up more when we give than when we receive. Sure, there are some jerks out there, but don’t let them stop you from reaching out to the people who are on your side.
I am often asked what introverts can do to overcome how hard it is to extend oneself in social situations and get to know people. This is a tough one. I think you just have to gut it out. Being an introvert is not an excuse to avoid other human beings—you just have to think of it as work. And you will actually meet some people you like and want to spend more time with. Some tips for this:
- Set yourself a goal to meet 3 or 5 or 7 people—whatever number you think will be a stretch but not impossible. Once you have met your people, you can leave. Boom. You’re done. Get cards, get contact info, and follow up in the quiet privacy of your home.
- Get out of your own head—probably a very active and scary place in social circumstances. To do this, breathe deeply and feel the soles of your feet on the floor. It works. Try it.
- Get the attention off of yourself. Part of why social situations are so stressful is that you think people are judging you. They aren’t. Every person is worried about what you are thinking about them. We are all in the same boat that way—humans are remarkably self absorbed. So stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others. Have a list of questions you can depend on—big, open-ended ones such as:
“What is your job like? What do you actually do all day?”
“Do you love what you do? What would you do if you had a choice—what is your fantasy job?”
“What is your favorite thing about living in this city?”
People love to talk about themselves. You can depend on this.
Finally, a sure fire way to get people to engage with you as a follow-up is to go back to them and ask them for advice—about their field, about what you should do, where you should live, what you should do next. If there is anything people love more than talking about themselves, it is giving advice. I should know—here I am doing it!
Stay in touch, Novice. Let me know how it goes and how I can help.
I’m not kidding.
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