Between our events and the blog, we host and share quite a lot of discussion around the topic of networking. Recently we’ve been receiving more questions about how we actually approach our own personal networking, so we decided to share it on the blog. Hope you enjoy it and sorry for any overlap, we wrote them separately.
Danny’s up first.
What networking have you been doing in the past two months?
Firstly, it needs to be known that my day job requires that I network like a maniac. I need to know a range of decision-makers from different sectors and industries in Taipei. These individuals are essentially leads for me to inquire whether their company is willing to host foreign graduate students for long-term paid internships. I network for business development, not so much for my personal career development – this distinction naturally defines my approach.
Fortunately, our company provides for certain membership and event fees. We are members of both the Canadian and British Chambers of Commerce, which allows me to go to events at a discount. Apart from the All Hands events John and I have been working on, in the last couple months I have been to four Chamber of Commerce events, three start-up networking events, and two governmental events on law making that concern the foreign community. Professionally, I need to be the spider in the centre of a network of companies that are potentially willing to give foreign graduates a paid-internship: the more I weave this web, the better I become at sniffing out opportunities and job openings. This also has a benefit for All Hands: I meet resourceful decision makers who can be potential panellists and offer unique perspectives.
How would you describe your approach to networking? Any tips?
As it happens, I have a life and I don’t want to spend too many week nights away from my guitar and football. Hence, my initial approach involves cherry picking events. Cherry picking is simple enough: understand and research the networking event focus, industry focus, the topics, the organizers and their vested interest, the panel, past events, past photos, the size of the crowd, etc. My tip would be to visualise what the ideal situation would be for your networking and then tailor your approach. Do your homework: make a list of a few ‘must-meets’ and let the host or organizer introduce you. Next time you are at one of our events, approach John or me and start picking our brains, we are more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Here’s how I approach attending events. First, I scan the room hoping to see a few familiar faces. I acknowledge these acquaintances and always take the time to greet them. It may seem slightly counter-intuitive to get the same name cards from familiar acquaintances, but it can put you at ease and anchor you in a sea of strangers. I try to treat these familiar contacts as gatekeepers to their groups of contacts and start branching out. Divide and conquer the room, and if it is going well I’m chatting to unfamiliar people in no time. Obviously, it is not a bad thing to have fun chatting for an hour and a half to familiar people, it just might not be as beneficial to the purpose you set out at the beginning of the night. For instance, if you want to find an entry-level job as an international student, seek out HR or recruiter professionals who can give you sound advice, or if you want to transition from English teaching to some other career you may want to seek out individuals who have made that jump. Again, network with goals in mind. Socializing for the sake of socializing can be done in a bar any night of the week.
Be proactive in greeting new people – I find being direct (but informal) about your purpose of being at the event is useful. ‘I’m here to see if there are any companies interested in taking on foreign graduate interns for a few months…’ I use this kind of line a lot. This directness usually puts people at ease, and you can skip the mind-numbing foreplay of talking about how long you have been in Taiwan and how much you love the infrastructure. Signalling your purpose also makes it easy for the other person to share their opinions and, hopefully, signpost useful people in the room. Skipping the small talk also gives you a better chance of getting involved in a genuine, interesting conversation.
Here you may point out that advocating a pragmatic, efficient, formulaic approach to networking seems a little at odds with genuine conversation. If my purpose is to collect name cards, surely the approach should be simple: go up to every single humanoid in the room and chat minimally for maximum return on bits of card. I have met those antisocial name-card-collecting arses who don’t make much eye-contact and leave the conversation once you are no longer relevant to their purpose. Antisocial behavior is conspicuous to all and could result in some negative impressions – ‘Don’t talk to Patrick Bateman because he is a sociopathic moron’.
I have learnt that you will not meet everyone at an event nor will introductions be valuable to you immediately. Be patient with your network. I have had plenty of people reach out months after an event. Also, you’ll find that it is exhausting to network hastily and expect instantaneous results, it’s not realistic and feels unnatural if you do it at a mechanical pace.
Finally, all this networking will be completely in vain if you do not follow-up with potentially useful contacts. I make a habit of e-mailing one day after, when people still have a fresh image of you in their head and are compelled by courtesy to at least give you a reply. A quick e-mail will suffice: ‘Hi there, was fantastic to meet you last night + here’s a reminder of what I do + see my contact info below + let me know if you would like to get a coffee some time + have a brilliant week, Danny.’
To sum this up into a kind of elevator pitch piece of advice, I’ll leave you with this. Strike a balance with your networking strategy and set realistic targets, do not be that artificial name card collecting robot- and for Pete’s sake- listen.
And here are John’s responses.
How would you describe your approach to networking?
I am a very omnivorous networker, by which I mean that I will take any opportunity to meet people and get to know them. That being said, I would say that I have progressed from being a massively social networker to a more directed networker. When I was a freelancer (and single) I would attend not only whatever meetings I could set up, but also multiple networking events per month. At that time, I was both freelancing and looking for a job, both of which require quite a bit of networking, and not always the same sort. So when I say that I was more of a social networker, that kind of behavior of pointedly meeting lots and lots of new people was essential to building my foundational web of connections both for networking and for finding a steady job.
By way of comparison, today I feel less compelled to canvas far and wide, favoring more targeted networking opportunities when I can. I now attend less events and have far more 1-on-1 meetings than I did years ago when I was more of a social networker. I attribute this to two factors. First, my career has stabilized. I have a day job and, while I do still take side jobs, I don’t need to constantly seek projects. Second, All Hands requires a lot of face-to-face meetings. In addition to meeting with Danny on the monthly maintenance of the platform and events, we meet regularly with prospective panelists, venues, sponsors, and business partners, and we have been invited to contribute to law making and other collaborative projects.
How about the networking you’ve done in the past couple months?
We are fortunate to have a lot of networking opportunities come to us now that we are running All Hands. Here’s an overview of what it takes to plan one of our events. First we need a topic, which now are often coming from the community. So we will meet with a person who brings us the idea, evaluate if they would like to be on the panel, refine the topic together, and consider what contacts we have between us that might begin to fill out the panel. Then we will go and meet with each individual panelist 1-on-1. Many panelists don’t know what All Hands is, so we spend an hour or more sharing about our cause and our events, explaining the specific event at hand, and evaluating their interest. We also have to plan the event with the venue. For a new venue, this requires at least one in-person meeting so that both sides can evaluate the partnership. Once the panelists are confirmed, we have a pre-meeting before the event where the panelists can meet one another and discuss what they think are the interesting talking points, Danny and I will then distill this down into a loose outline for the panel discussion. What looks like a single event usually takes us five or more meetings to bring to life.
In addition to All Hands meetings, I generally attend about one professional event and one social event of note each month. In the past two months, I joined Type A Breakfast, Soapbox Sessions at the Hive, a lantern cleanup, a pub quiz, and a kind of makers market. These have all been great places to make new and useful connections, but by far the bulk of my networking has been 1-on-1 on meetings. I have had at least 25 face-to-face meetings with people in my network or new connections in the past two months, and that has become the norm for me. Due to my busy schedule, I book myself for a lot of morning and lunch meetings.
Meeting a ton of people and forming a large professional network is great, but simply meeting people is not enough. People need to know you and remember you and know what you do (or want to do). Likewise, you should get to know people who you believe will be of help to you and try to offer them value. Networking is the start of relationship building and healthy relationships are mutually beneficial, so keep your contacts in mind when you hear of an opportunity or need. If you can play the role of connector or fill a need for them that is sure to deepen your relationship and their impression of your value.