Networking can suck, especially if you don’t know anyone in the room. When I started networking, I was meeting potential mentors, role models, or business partners before I was 21. I thought I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was the only person in the room who couldn’t have a drink in their hand, legally.
In my mind, this set me apart in a negative way. I thought I was automatically forever marked “The Intern,” which was typically how I was introduced. In everyone else’s minds, I was starting to create my brand. I was the one others learned to contact to reach the university markets. I knew the right potential interns, professors, or companies hiring. Soon, my brand turned from “The Intern” to “The Startup Queen.” (Yes, I’ve actually be introduced as that before!)
I learned first hand that networking can be a scary thing. It can feel like you’re the one kid on the playground without any friends. However, networking doesn’t have to be (all) bad. Below is the story of how I met one of my mentors, professional role models, and business fraternity brother, Steven.
I met one of my best business friends and mentors by (quite literally) running into him at a local networking event. I turned around too fast and almost hit Steven when I met him. After attempting to recover, I started with a simple question: “So what brings you to this event?” Steven replied with a modest answer of just wanting to learn more about startups in the area.
After talking for a few minutes, I learned Steven was launching a non-profit, Know Money Inc. His focus was financial education for underprivileged youth around the Columbia area. Instantly, we had something in common: I completed my high school project on the same topic. After further exploring our mutual interest, I took a leap and asked Steven to come speak to my professional business fraternity. As it turns out, Steven was the president of his chapter at my rival college.
Instantly, we had a deeper connection. I realized you never know what can happen in a networking situation unless you say hello. Asking a concrete favor of someone (once you know them well enough) creates a much deeper bond.
Asking a concrete favor of someone (once you know them well enough) creates a much deeper bond.
Since starting Know Money Inc, Steven’s career has taken off. He’s since quit his full time job to pursue his own interests. This has lead him to create a real estate investment company, travel the world, and even attend a conference run by the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community! Needless to say, he has some of this networking stuff figured out. I asked him for his best networking tip to which he replied:
“You should use the message feature on LinkedIn to tell where you met, how you know them or why you thought you should connect with them. I see the generic message often and it’s one of my pet peeves.”
[Tweet “#Networking tip from @KnowMoneySteve: Use the message feature on @LinkedIn to remind someone how you met. Don’t rely on the generic message.”]
Since meeting Steven, I’ve met countless other people within my town. I’ve even had people introduce themselves to me after seeing each me represent different organizations at events. After attending countless number of events in college where I was the only one under 25, I’ve learned how to meet people without literally running into them.
Make Networking Suck Less with These Steps:
1). Get out of your comfort zone and say hello to someone new
2). Practice the art of medium talk (i.e. ask a different question than the standard questions)
3). Find something in common with someone else, even if that common ground is being in the same place
4). Have an end goal in mind, even if it’s to exchange contact information
5). Smile, because it’s almost over 🙂
I’d love to hear how you make networking suck less. Do you have any tips or go-to questions? If so, comment below!