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How to go about networking 1:1

Networking is Hard. Going to networking events, randomly meeting new people and following up can be very time consuming and unfulfilling. I have been to a couple of these – everyone exchanges their business cards and makes tons of promises of following up, but it never happens. I have never been good at this.

At a recent women career panel at Microsoft, leaders from within the org were discussing on how to get the next big career opportunity, and a central theme of this discussion was networking. At least two GMs mentioned that in the past 10 years they never had to look for a job, because their networking helped them get introduced to their next big opportunity. The panelists were referring to meeting people in a 1 on 1 (1:1) setting which is more fulfilling and both people get value out of it.

When it comes to me, I always struggle with two things:

  1. Why would someone want to talk to me? Will the person I am trying to network respond to my request to meet/chat?
  2. What will I talk to that person? Somehow when it comes to 1:1 networking I am usually lost for words.

For #1, the hardest part is reaching out to the other person and then it becomes easy. I have reached out to people and most have not responded, but some have. Sometimes I feel it is like the numbers game — the more number of people you reach out to, the higher your chances of getting a response. You have nothing to lose to send a note to connect. But if you do not reach out you will never know whether they were willing to help you or not.

For #2, I asked the panel for their two cents on conversation to have in a 1:1. Following is their collective advice:

Have a goal: It is important for you to know what you would like to get out of the meeting. At the end of the meeting do you want to come out of it knowing that you will have future regular syncs, or having a clear direction on somethings you can do in your job search, or getting an introduction from that person with someone else. Think of what you would like to get out of the meeting. For most people who are not searching for immediate job changes it is usually to maintain a relationship for regular guidance.

Be prepared: Before the meeting take some time to write down all the questions or things you would like to discuss. It is perfectly fine to show the list of questions you want to discuss when you meet. Usually people won’t have time to discuss the entire list and will ask you the top two things you would like to cover first. The worst is when you go to a meeting and are sitting quiet staring at each other. Remember you have set up the meeting and you will need to drive the meeting.

Ask questions: One of the panelist observed that people love to talk and if you ask questions about themselves in most cases people will respond back. So go on and ask questions. However, you need to be careful. If you ask questions around things that are of no consequence to you or the other person then it will come off as you not being genuine and the person might not want to continue meeting with you. So don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions.

Perfect your elevator pitch: One of the panelist spoke about her first experience with a mentee. The mentee told her story in such a manner that her important skills and achievements never came out. So it is important to tell your story clearly highlighting your skills and what you do. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself (this is especially true for women). Write down your elevator pitch and practice it. In a couple of minutes you should be able to introduce yourself and talk about what you do.

Make a connection: This is one of the harder advises for networking. Making a connection is hard. How do you make a connection with someone? You need to be yourself. This is the only thing that will allow you to make a connection with the person. And if you do not feel a connection with someone maybe that person is not the right fit for you.

For those of you who feel similarly about networking events, I encourage you to reach out to people you would like to learn from a 1:1 setting. Think of 1:1 networking as having a conversation, making a friend, or getting some advise. It is no different than talking to a person!

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