The Subtle Art of Networking
Attending an event in the presence of corporate leaders can be daunting for some. Usually, everyone is happy to take a seat and listen intently to what these leaders have to say. But at most well organized events, there will be a session dedicated to “networking”. This is where students feel like a school of fish on Mars. Why? Well, isn’t it obvious? The participants at these events are usually university students, whilst the speakers are leaders in their field of work, holding important positions in the most reputed companies in the world. This seniority gap scares the life out of students. Students are worried about “not having anything to say” or “saying the wrong thing”. And yes, students have every reason to have this concern. You may look like a total fool if you have not mastered the language of networking. But, don’t fret. It’s actually not that scary if you know what to do! In fact, networking with corporate leaders is not very different from flirting with a potential love interest. GenCorporate is here to give you a few pointers.
This is possibly the most overused phrase in the English language. Students, graduates, and the unemployed are always told to “just be yourself” and everything will be fine. No, it won’t. That is a lie. Just being you will NOT lead to a perfect life on a bed of roses. Nonetheless, it’s an important step towards this wonderful life. When talking to anyone, whether it is a friend or a corporate leader, you need to be the best version of you. And if the person you are speaking to does not like you for who you are, that’s fine. Two people aren’t always meant to connect. However, if sparks fly when you speak to a corporate figure, that’s great! You will be able to cultivate this relationship with little effort, as all you have to do is be YOU.
Professionalism is the Key
I know I just told you to be yourself. And most normal people wouldn’t prioritize professionalism in their daily lives (who tries to be professional when taking a shower or eating a sandwich?!); hence, this wouldn’t be “you”. But if you’re reading this, we trust that you know that “being you” and “being professional” does not have to be mutually exclusive. Professionalism is the key to networking. Imagine this: you walk up to the Managing Director of Equities at Goldman Sachs, and have a stimulating conversation about the stock market. Everything is going great. But you end up saying, “I hate Americans. They mess things up for everyone. Don’t get me started on Wall Street!” Yeah, you’ve probably messed it up for yourself there. That is a complete no-no. You may be the most passionate person in the room about equities, and you may have seen sparks fly, but vulgarity the first time you meet someone probably isn’t the best way to build a network, not least when the person is an MD at Goldman. Keep it cool. Keep it professional.
Reminder: They Are Only Human
When approaching individuals holding vital roles in the corporate world, students tend to forget that these leaders are human too. We live in a society where the person at the top of the corporate food chain is viewed as a God/Goddess. This is a huge misconception. Yes, they are great now. But it was not too long ago that these people were students too. These leaders were once as afraid as you are now. These leaders also lived a normal life before they went into the corporate world (not that they don’t have a normal life now). So speak to them as you would speak to anyone else. They know you’re a student. They don’t expect you to have your whole life figured out. Just relax.
"Intensive Research" Solves Problems
To solve the issue of “I don’t know what to talk to them about”, a little bit of research can help. If you have access to the list of speakers at a particular event, stalk them beforehand. Know what they do. Know their hobbies. Know their political views. These are very important things to know. You wouldn’t want to criticize Donald Trump if the person you’re speaking to is the number one Trump fan in the world. When you’re done doing research on the corporate leaders, get to know the companies they work for. Don’t limit yourself to the company website, which gives you generic information regarding company values and a list of statistics. Follow them on Twitter or check out their YouTube channel. Do not leave any stone unturned. With all this information, it shouldn’t be difficult to start a conversation.
Get That Name Card!
All the hard work you put in from step 1-4 would be a waste if you do not have a way of contacting the latest edition to your growing network. After speaking to any corporate leader, politely ask for his/her contact details. Most leaders in the corporate world would carry name cards with them. Even if they don’t, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to swipe out your phone and take down their email address. If you’re old-fashioned, take out a pen and write it down on a piece of paper. When you get home after the event, add all these emails to your contact list and send out an appreciation email. Don’t go over the top. Just say “thank you for your time earlier today” and wish them well.
You should now be fluent in networking etiquette. But just like any other language, even if you’re fluent, it does not guarantee success every single time. Remember, it is just like flirting with a love interest: be you, be professional, don’t overthink, know your love interest inside out, and get those contact details! If this fails when you are networking with someone from the corporate world, you can always try this to get that guy/girl you’ve been eyeing.
RYAN SACHIN FERNANDEZ
is an executive in the Public Relations office.
He is the most realistic optimist you will ever meet and is intrigued by the meaning of life. Ryan is currently reading Economics at The London School of Economics.