Networking from an MBA perspective Part 2

This is a series in articles by Alejandro I. Sanoja and Matt Avery and the second part to Networking from an MBA Perspective, view first part.

During our first article on networking we explained how to confidently meet new people, ask questions, and close a conversation while connecting over LinkedIn.

Now we will describe how to maintain your new relationship and something that most people forget . . . preparing for networking events.

Maintaining the Relationship

Alejandro: There are a lot of misconceptions on what maintaining a professional relationship is. First of all, the idea should be for relationships to start as a professional connection and with time it becomes a friendship.

Most people think that you have to fake your interests in order to be connected with key people that can help you achieve your goals. Even from an utilitarian point of view this is not efficient. It takes too much time and energy trying to be something you are not.

That is why it is so important to master the vertical questions method. The goal of asking deeper questions is finding the commonalities that you already have with the person you are meeting. Once you do, then maintaining the relationship will be effortless. It will be as easy as maintaining your friendships. You are probably already tagging your friends in posts on social media when the post reminds you of them. That is the exact situation you want to create with your professional connections. At first, it will probably be with business and career related information. Some of the things you can share with your professional connections:

  • Books that could add value to what they do
  • Articles that are related to their work or industry
  • Upcoming events that they might be interested in attending
  • Opportunities of collaboration with another personal connection

The key is that you must be constantly consuming information in order to be able to share it.

The relationship can be started online. It is a low-investment proposition to both parties in terms of time and focus. Once you’ve built on that you can take the next step and ask for a coffee or lunch meeting. Again, all of this should be done with the mindset of finding ways to help the other person. Matt has a great article that can help you conduct a successful meeting to strengthen your relationship.

Matt: In the previous article, we discussed the importance of processes.  It is not difficult to meet new people when you are relaxed and are not trying to get something from others.  The easiest way to excel in networking is to simply say hello, ask questions, and make sure to get their contact information.

Now that you have a new contact, what do you do?  First, send a thank you message within 24 hours, something like:

“<Insert name>,

It was nice meeting you at <insert event>.  I enjoyed hearing about <insert fact they said> and would like to learn more about your profession.  Would you be available to grab a coffee or speak over the phone for 15 min in the upcoming weeks?  

I look forward to hearing from you.  

Best,

<insert your name>.”  

Saying thank you is a lost art and something that can really open doors.  Show genuine appreciation to others for a new world of opportunities to become available.

Again, do not overthink the process, it is about connecting to people as humans, learning about them, and then if you really enjoy speaking with your new contact make a point to find time to meet with them.  

When you are ready to meet them then it is time for an informational interview, I have a step-by-step guide on how to conduct one here.

Preparing for an Event

Alejandro: You could be doing research for days when preparing for an event, but the idea is to make it as efficient as possible. Research done should focus on information that will be used on each step of the conversations at the event: Opening, Maintaining and Closing. This should take a maximum of 15-20 minutes.

Opening

You should do some research on the organization that is conducting the event, the organizations that are sponsoring, and the key events that have happened lately in their industry. You should be able to answer the questions of “what do those organizations do,” “what are the problems that they solve,” and “who do they help?”

Maintaining

The first step should already give you information to maintain conversations. Another key thing is to do research on the keynote speakers or panelists of the event. Taking a look at their LinkedIn profile will give you an overall idea of who they are and their interests which will tell you a lot about the kind of audience that will be interested in what they have to say. Constantly consuming valuable information will also give you a lot to talk about to maintain the conversation. I usually share some of the best stories I hear on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast.

Closing

As mentioned in the previous article, you should Always Be Closing. A way to be prepared to end conversations on a high note is  doing research on:

  • Upcoming events that the hosting organization is offering
  • Upcoming events related to the industry of focus of the event
  • Key books that are recommended for that industry

That way you will be able to close with a call-to-action. Always be thinking about the next step. Information about an upcoming event that may be valuable for the persons you just met, is something that you can add to your LinkedIn invitation to connect. That way you are already helping and adding value to the other person.

Matt: By now it should be apparent that I follow simple processes, the key is to actually follow them.  The same is true when you prepare for an event.  We wanted to make sure to write about preparation because many people simply show up to a networking event without taking the time to plan.  Just as you follow up with contacts, make sure to put in time before events for a complete networking process.

Alejandro has covered some of the technical items of the event that are necessary and I want to dive into some aspects that could be overlooked.  

The most practical advice is to map out where your event is located.  It is fascinating to see so many people miss an event or be late because they did not look up directions to an event.  

When you know where the event is, then determine how long it will take to get there and factor in parking, walking, checking in, etc.  Think about your city and where you are going.  In Houston, it can take 15 min just to get on a highway, then another 20 to drive, and forget about parking at popular places.  The key is to give yourself plenty of time.  Showing up late causes stress which results in poor communication, when you are early then you will be relaxed and it is easier to meet others.

There is another point that most people do not think about when it comes to arriving early.  

You will have access to the people putting on events.  I have met many high-level individuals because I was one of the first to arrive.  If you are early, jump in and help set-up.  That is one of the best impressions you can make.

Also be smart about what you wear, if it says business professional on the invitation then dress business professional.  Your event’s industry will give a good indication of what to wear.  For example, I go to marketing events where nice jeans, a button up, and blazer are expected, yet a finance event with old school bankers would likely require a suit.  

My overall point is that along with the great advice Alejandro has given, focus on the simple steps that will make you stand out.  Being on time without being rushed while dressed appropriately is the foundation to a great first impression at a networking event.

Summary

We all know that networking is essential to professional growth.  It is not as difficult as people think, especially when you have an effective process.

Just remember:

  • Say hello to easily meet new people
  • Ask vertical questions
  • Close conversations by exchanging contact information
  • Follow up with you new contact within 24 hours
  • Prepare for events, it only takes 15-20 minutes

If you would like even more information on how to network and develop professionally visit Your MBA Purpose, a website where Alejandro, myself and others share resources for you to find your dream job.

Alejandro I. Sanoja & Matt Avery