Hey ladies and gents! I saw in the Wall Street Journal a big article on the importance of charisma and presence, it inspired @"Ben_KickassAcademy" and I to throw an article together on networking for you guys.
You fill out a name card. Receive a packet of promotional materials. Leaf through them while you stand awkwardly for the first few minutes of the meet and greet. Give silent thanks when the presentation starts and you can take your seat. Attempt one impressive sounding question during the public Q&A. Then crowd an Associate with a group of 5 other would-be employees all asking questions intended to make them look smart.
Ahh...recruiting season...by the end you'll have a stacks of business cards and year's supply of company pens. But you will NEVER get a leg up in the hiring process like that.
The only way to gain any advantage at these events is to make an impression. To have someone there like you enough to push you through to interviews or at least put your resume at the top of the pile.
Problem is, if you're like most people, you lock up at these events. You're not your normal, comfortable self. All of a sudden you're in networking mode, which translates to boring small talk or worse, dead silence. No one remembers you. And now you're stuck competing for one of a handful of spots based on the words on your resume.
We all know we should be networking. After all, 80% of jobs are filled informally (not through the standard resume drop). Unfortunately, most of us get stuck in the resume run because we just lose our mojo when trying to "network" and don't know how to shine in such a contrived situation.
So this isn't intended to be a comprehensive guide to networking. It is supposed to help you feel your most confident and charismatic while networking so that you stand the best chance of making an impression that lands you a job.
Here we go
Before The Event
Set your intention - Don't go because you "have to." Obligation means you'll put in the minimum effort: watch the presentation, grab a few business cards, and then write some meaningless follow up thank yous. Commit to being social and outgoing or don't go at all. The point is to go make such an impression that the hiring process becomes easier based on the connections you've made.
Pick the right event for you- Rising seniors and MBA students: You are about to be bombarded with dozens of "official" company events, most of which will culminate in the distribution of pamphlets dedicated to company branding. In my experience, those events never resulted in meaningful or helpful connections.
On the other hand,, , and company-sponsored happy hours all gave me a bit more space to meet people who wound up helping me. Are those events going to be the best for you? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is to keep track of the type of events that work for you. Does anything good come out of official events, coffee talks, bar outings, charity events, job fairs? If so, double down. Do more. If not, make them a lower priority.
Go early - If there is any sort of company presentation, it's a madhouse after. The best you can hope for is to be one of 6 people standing in a circle waiting to say a few words to the MD, who won't remember any of you. Go early and take advantage of the fact that you're going to exercise social courage before everyone else has worked up to it. You can get one on one with people who can help.
Get in a social mood by talking to everyone on your way to the event - We've all walked into one of these rooms and immediately felt like an outsider. Should you speak to someone...or just run to the bar? Should you walk up to that VP...or just look busy on your phone?
Do yourself a favor: get yourself in a talkative mood by forcing yourself to say at least a few words to whoever you encounter on your way to the event. This means your doorman, the taxi driver, whoever you share the elevator with, anyone with a pulse. Sociability is a muscle. Warm it up. This way you're less likely to hesitate the moment you see someone who works at the company you're gunning for.
Be playful with people at the bottleneck - Whether it is a line on the way in or a name tag station, crack jokes. Your goal is to start feeling more comfortable around strangers and get out of the Please/Thank You/How Are You/I'm Fine Conversation box.
I don't mean be a jerk. I don't mean get thrown out for rowdy behavior.
But have you ever felt like you really needed to be super serious at a networking event - stay quiet, not joke around....and then seen someone else break all those rules to fanfare?
I have. Yesterday, I went with my brother to a Zappo's-hosted event. Tony Hsieh (the founder) was there. I immediately assumed the mindset that this was an important event. I needed to be respectful.
My brother didn't get the memo. On the way in, they asked us for our names to put on nametags. I said "Charlie." He came up next.
"What's your name?" the woman asked him.
"Dragon." he responded.
She cocked an eyebrow. He nodded seriously and then burst into laughter when she finished writing it. So did the woman. For the rest of the event he was more comfortable than I was. I saw and felt the eyes on him as he mingled. People wanted to speak with him. Less rules were boxing him in.
Now, I freely admit, "Dragon" was funny because this was a West Coast event hosted outside in the afternoon, and Zappos is notorious for it's out-of-the-box culture. There was not a single suit in the crowd. Something can be funny at Zappos or Google, but seen as immature at an I-bank. So definitely keep in mind the culture of the firm you're aspiring to join.
That being said, the point stands - acting overly serious will guarantee no one connects with you. Strive to be more playful in your conversation. Don't be a clown or a try hard, just be more playful and laid back than the other people there. A few suggestions to loosen you up in line:
"Greetings line buddy!"
"Are you here for the free hors d'oeuvres as well?"
"Mostly I'm just hoping to get one of those sweet company packets with a branded pen."
As soon as you walk in, speak to someone (but don't get stuck) - This is where most people lock up. Their mind races, they feel uncomfortable, and they have no idea what to do with their hands (hence, the race to check email or grab a drink). You need to get out of your head and into conversation. So immediately upon entering take 30 seconds to say hello to anyone, whether they work at the company, are recruiting, or are event staff. A simple, "Hey I've not met you yet. I'm [your name]," is all it takes.
Be different by NOT leading with job stuff - Let's get this straight: your goal is to make an impression that winds up giving you preferential treatment in the resume shuffle and interview process. I can tell you from experience on both sides of the table, that the way to make an impression is NOT by doing the same thing as everyone else. That means, not leading with "So tell me about the a day in the life at X Company." You'll watch their eyes roll back into their head as they shift into autopilot.
Break the pattern. Connect with people first about anything other than work. Then they'll be more likely to help you. A handful of starter topics:
The fact that they are likely alumni of your school
The fact that they probably have a red eye out and are going to be tired at work
The fact that they are probably very excited to respond to, "So tell me about a day in the life..." a thousand times over the next hour (it's a joke...get it?)
Aim to meet people involved in the recruiting process - Now that you've had one conversation and are feeling loose, it's time to look for the type of person that can help you. At the official company events, this person tends to be in their low 30's. They are an MD or an Associate or some mid-level employee with managerial responsibilities. They will take at least one interview and have a disproportionate say in who gets though. At smaller events like coffee chats, resume reviews, and mock interviews, it is often whoever is hosting.
When you shift to work conversation - talk about things you actually care about - When you come in with pre-prepared questions you cribbed off the internet, it shows. People know from your voice tone, eye contact, and body language that you don't really care about the "most challenging project they had." Answering those ingratiating questions is just annoying.
Ask questions you actually care about. Whatever it is, the enthusiasm in your voice will shine through. You can still prepare these types of questions in advance - just really think through the types of things you genuinely want to know.
Sign off asking for explicit help - Before you walk away, make a genuine request. Go big. Everyone else is emailing one extra question. Be different.
"Hey I know there are a ton of other people here you need to mingle with, but I know you guys have a multi-step interview process and I really want to knock it out of the park if it comes to that. Do you have 5-10 minutes to catch up on the phone and talk about how you prepared and how I can best prepare?"
If you've connected at all with the person this is an easy "Sure, no problem." Yes, people are busy. But truth be told, it is flattering to receive this kind of a request, especially if it's from someone who made a solid first impression. Just remember: make the ask specific to them/their company. Otherwise they're going to be thinking, "Just go read Case In Point..." or "Learn to model aown..."
(Key here: this is only for lower level people, and only for people you've actually had a good connection with. Saying this to a guy after 60 seconds of 'meh' conversation will NOT go well.)
Then actually follow up and set a time. This wins you super helpful interview prep and cements you as one of the people to remember when talking about who should get pushed on to the interview stage.
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