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Practical Networking Tips

In my MBA Summer Blues article, I give some tips on working your new — and old — network. Those tips apply not just to newly minted MBAs, but to all those looking to reinvent themselves.

Kevin Laws, contributor to VentrueBlog, offers some terrific practical networking tips, which help to expand my point. He says networking is about serendipity: making your luck. It's more about finding the person who already needs your skills, or your company, or your money. It's about making your interests and needs widely known and listening to the interests and needs of others. It's about being in the right place at the right time.

Here are Laws' tips:

  • Just do it. At events, find somebody who looks a little uncomfortable and talk to them. "What brings you here?" is often a good icebreaker. Dont waste the opportunity by seeking out the people you already know well or spending your time at the drink counter.
  • Card anyone over 21. Carry your business card with you wherever you go. If you are a student or "between positions," carry a card that has your contact info or your school's info on it.
  • Be brief. You should be able to introduce yourself and what your company does in a memorable, concise way.
  • Be specific. Saying "Well, I've done a variety of things and am pretty flexible." is not going to help you.
  • Don't ask for anything but advice. When you ask somebody to help you find funding or find a job, it's very blunt and implies a lot of invested time. Try a much softer method, "I'm looking to move from engineering into product management and would love to get your opinion sometime on how I should approach that."
  • Follow upselectively. Send a "nice to meet you" email and suggest meeting for coffee. But don't get overly hung up on any particular contact. Networking is about serendipity, not persistence.

Are you between projects? How do you network? Any tips on networking or reinventing yourself?

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  • James Durbin

    I just recently went through this.
    I resigned from my position without a new job, and was looking for a career change. To do so, I wrote down a list of every person I knew who would call me back if I left a message.

    There were 37 people.

    To each, I asked who were the best people and the best companies they worked with, and what their advice to me was.

    153 names came from that, followed by 27 meetings, 14 interviews, and a wealth of knowledge that helped me secure my present job and put me on a fast track of new business.

    Walking into my new position, I have information on every company I want to work with, or a person I can call to get it.

    I would recommend writing down everything you do and hear, and reviewing it before you make block calls.

  • Steve Portigal

    Networking with people you already know is important to me. Consider it "keeping in touch" - just because someone knows you already doesn't mean you are top of mind when something comes along.

    For me, networking is not something I do with a planned outcome (i.e., get a project, or get a name I can call for a project); I don't know where it will lead and I find that I enjoy it better that way.

    Sometimes people tell me someone else I should talk to, or they send someone else to me for advice, or they recommend me for a project, or nothing. Or nothing for 6 months and then some followup happens.

    I meet so many people who think they have to be involved in "sales" and of course it just freaks them out - keeping in touch with people you know, getting to know new people, it is an organic activity that leads you places you may not have planned.

    For me, growing my network (yuck, what a phrase) has been one of the most pleasurable aspects of starting my own business.

  • Mark Northern

    I know Harvey McKay ("Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive" and "Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt") is "old school," but his "Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty" -- subtitled "The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need" -- is a good read. Great tips for beginning schmoozers... as well as some strategies that will surprise veteran networkers. I strongly recommend it.