How to make friends and win people
I stood awkwardly with a plate scarcely filled with food in the warmly lit room. I looked at the table heaped with delicious food, and then again at the pockets of people standing together seemingly interested in what the others had to say. Each group included wise-looking crisply dressed individuals surrounded by my fellow students dressed in their top drawers trying to engage in a conversation with industry experts. Everyone looked engrossed, interested , and busy. How do I go, interrupt, and plug myself in a group? Or do I just focus on the food? The fruit cocktail looked delicious. I tended to find myself in near about the same situation in the too many networking events that my B-School hosted and insisted we attend. A software developer turned MBA candidate, the importance of Networking was a newly realized concept. And by now you would have realized that I am not a natural networker. Few months fast forward, the indispensability of Networking was thrown in my face multiple times. The importance was cemented. It seemed almost impossible to get a job in the Singapore market without Networking. The market aid not work the same as in my smallish world in India. I started somewhere. With time, Networking switched from becoming completely impossible and awkward to only mildly uncomfortable.
It’s just a conversation
Networking gets its bad name because we assume it is done at formal events, in an intimidating setting trying to impress high-flying people who have already reached somewhere. Well, It does not need to be. Anywhere you forge connections is networking. Be it at a party, a meetup, in reading clubs. My friends tell me that some of their best long-lasting relations were created and nurtured on Golf courses, cycling expeditions, and Kayaking groups.
Network with people who share your interest
There will always be people who you find interesting and the people who talk to just because you think you should. The problem with the latter is that it’s not easy to click and connect. It feels unnatural, and you struggle to find your next words.
Having a conversation should not be this difficult. Find people who share common interests with you and start from there.
One of my easiest conversations was on a coffee and about coffee. The lady was a coffee connoisseur and I do not hate my coffee. I ended up learning a thing or two and conversation flew more naturally, just like it should with friends.
You can share an interest in anything right from hobbies to liking common books to career choices.
People are like each other in too many dimensions
Chose your mode — offline vs online
Even if you do not have a full-time job taking up your hours, the number of networking events you can attend is limited. The number of faces and conversations at each of them is further constrained by attention and interest spans. Online platforms do away with these constraints typical to events. You can approach thousands of people in an hour compared to 2 at an event. I am not, however trying to downplay the importance of face to face interactions. Both, with their ups and downs, when interwoven at different stages of interaction works best to help forge a relationship with an individual. Ask a person for some guidance, or praise her on her great article. Strike up a conversation. “Go ahead, offer to buy the person a cup of coffee”
Start with a template till you go natural
Analytics is the key to everything now, isn’t it? I started experimenting with templated messages I would send to people over LinkedIn. With each iteration, analyzing the response rate, I would work to refine the message further. I learned to add a personalized part with a template, something that would strike an individual and connect with them. The typical contents of my template included how did I find you, why is your profile of interest to me, and what I am looking for. The simple combination has to date worked well to fetch me responses.
Find the right template that works for you
Always be genuine and honest. Don’t be afraid to be yourself
Networking is an exercise that needs to be sustained through life. Networks are not something that one builds in days and months, and especially not something that one calls on only during the time of need. You need to build and nurture your network. And needless to say, that gets very hard, if you put on a fake persona. People can not only see through the fakeness but its also a sign of inauthenticity when you drop the mask. It is important that you carry your genuine face with you when you network.
Say what you believe in and believe what you say.
It takes a lifetime to work towards a good network, but it stays with you and supports you through a lifetime.