As a fair warning, I just got home from a networking event - mostly college kids, like myself - and I don't know if I should be extremely pleased or extremely irritated. I'm currently both.
Approx. 60% of the people I talked to were horribly, horribly awkward. Unable to carry on a conversation awkward. Borderline offensive awkward. It was bad. Which could be great, because these people are finance/accounting majors at my school (non-target, ya'll) and are potential competition, so the more socially inept they are, the more likely they are to tank in interviews. Excellent. On the other hand, networking with awkward people is generally an unpleasant experience.
I just thought I'd compile a list of things not to do, and maybe some things to do, so that the awkward children out there can better navigate the world of networking.
1. Know how to
introduce yourself. I mean for crying out loud, it is not that difficult. Name. Major. School. Current internship position (if applicable) and one very succinct sentence on what you do. If in doubt, finish with "What about you?" If that person already told you, try finding a commonality. If you can't think of anything, ask how they got into whatever they're doing and go from there.
Literally, a kid tonight started out with the world's worst handshake (weak, freezing cold hands that were also sweaty, wtf?) and couldn't get through his own goddamn introduction without stuttering 14 times. He's getting his masters in accounting and just landed his first internship at PWM branch office somewhere in the 'burbs. Don't be this kid.
2. Know the atmosphere. This cannot be more important. For example, tonight's event was informal; it was at a bar/restaurant, no dress shirts in sight. In this type of a setting, it's okay to talk about work, but move on. Talk about your life, ask people about their lives, bond over football and beer pong. Don't just blather on and on what Excel model you just learned how to run or your master plans to break into investment banking, because it makes you look like you literally have no other interests. And guess what. No one is going to be your friend because you know how to calculate WACC. And guess what else. If they're not your friend, they're not going to pass along that helpful tidbit of information, or get you that contact info from their internship's internal server.
One guy just about talked my ear off about studying DCF models and drilling other technicals so that he'd be in perfect shape for full-time recruiting. Literally asked me what my favorite valuation method was. And it wasn't just me, that's all he talked about to everyone. Don't be this guy.
3. Know your audience. At work, everyone is about 20 years older than me. When we small talk, I talk about current events, like interesting articles in this morning's Journal (nothing political or super controversial, obviously) or general things I'm working on (yeah, I'm doing some client prospecting, got some calls coming up, how's your workload?). Depending on the relationship, I also go with "How's the family," or "How'd the weekend trip up north go," or whatever. I have a pretty good memory when it comes to personal mumbo jumbo, so I usually have a good arsenal of life-related small talk.
At this event, I talked about college stuff. Because most college kids don't give two fucks about economic conditions in China, and don't have kids. I try and stick to topics that aren't likely to start fights. For example, one person brought up the Trayvon Martin case (in his defense, one TV at the venue ran a news clip about it) and suddenly, five people were gritting their teeth trying not to punch each other in the face. Smooth. Don't be those guys, and definitely don't lose your bearings at a networking event, even if you've put down a few.
4. Listen to people. Don't shove your two cents in on every single thing that every single person has to say. Listen and ask follow-up questions. Like this. Person 1: "Oh yeah, I'm in the kayaking club." Non-awkward person 2: "Really? I didn't even know we had one of those. What do you guys do?" And so on and so forth. Obviously, there are good times to volunteer information about yourself - the conversation shouldn't be entirely one-sided - but don't just wait for your turn to talk because you love the sound of your own voice. No one likes those people. No one. And if you get people to open up to you, you can establish a connection. People like to talk about themselves, and they like to be listened to, so take advantage of it.
PRO TIP: Make a point to remember one thing (main point, topic, or interest) that person said, and use that in your follow up (assuming they're good for a follow up...I will be following up with approximately 3 people of the 60 at this event). If you have a shitty memory (I'm good with names/faces and can remember arbitrary facts pretty easily) then jot them down in your phone or padfolio, depending on the type of event. And, if the point you choose to remember is a business thing, or you talked about a WSJ article or something (for more formal events), send the article over to them.
5. Don't be a blatantly selfish moron. This should go without saying, but it doesn't. I landed an SA gig at a BB (not IB, but the name still gets people going) and I was getting all sorts of bizarre requests. "Can I get your bosses email? Can you get me more connections/info on XYZ? What are your BBs processes for this and that?" The answers were as follows: No. No. And I'm not going to tell you. Why? Because guess what, my boss doesn't want a random email from Skippy McGee saying "I met your intern, can I have a job too?" and there's no way I'm vouching for someone I don't even know. And I'm definitely not going to do anything against the rules for you. And I'm absofuckinglutely not going to go out on a limb for someone who has less than no tact, because (1) I don't have that kind of pull and (2) if you come off as extremely desperate now, you probably won't do much better in an interview setting, and I don't back losers.
Instead, consider flipping the proposition and thinking about how you can add value to them. This one is a bit trickier at networking events with experienced professionals (when you're a measly college kid), but don't think you can't be of use. And especially at an event like this, it's so easy to add value. Doesn't even have to be professional in nature. "Your bike has a flat? My friend works at the bike shop, here's where it is. I'll text him now & ask what he thinks of the problem, shouldn't be too expensive to fix."
PRO TIP: If someone's having a problem and you can help them solve it, they're more likely to be on their side. Plus, being perceived as helpful is much, much better than being perceived as desperate.
Now that I've gotten this all out, I feel much better, though in retrospect, it might not be worth posting. Most people should know this by now. At least, I hope so. It's hammered on this website over and over, but tonight's debacle really made me question how people can function in life without developing basic communication skills.
I guess I'll end with this. The real key is to be personable and relate to people on a human level. Apparently this concept blows some people away, but guess what. People are people are people and if you can find out what they like and get the conversation rolling in that direction, you will have successfully alleviated any awkwardness.
LAST PRO TIP: If conversation stalls or there get's to be a silence, you have two options. Fill it with a question about the other person or fill it by talking about yourself.
Starter questions include:
So, where did you say you were from? (For people you don't know)
What classes (or clubs or extracurriculars) are you in? (For people who go to your school)
Outside of finance, what are you into? (For casual settings)
How did you get into banking? (For professionals)
What do you do day-to-day? (For professionals)
What type of projects are you working on? (For professionals)
Do you have a favorite deal or story? (For professionals)
What advice do you have for college kids looking to get into the industry? Alternatively: What do you wish you knew going into the professional world? (For professionals)
So, what are your thoughts on (relevant topics here)?