The Blog

I Suck at Networking

Or how I almost blew my chances in 7 'faux pas'.

Fresh from university, and still fresh from a different culture, the idea of networking had until then been family dinners, the far relatives including in-laws, first cousins and second cousins that we'd met at weddings, or the neighbours and the swimming club mates with whom we'd go for Sunday cycle rides to the beach (there's worse I admit ).

1 - Not networking

In a true beginner style, I of course made friends and got involved in all social activities my first employer could offer. And there I found myself playing football with the top managers. I was quite chuffed to get the decisive pass to the VP of Sales. However, the interaction stopped at that. Instead of showing an interest in the person (from feeling too 'insignificant' to interact), or engaging in a conversion about how he became VP, I simply took off to go clubbing with other friends. We'll put that down to youthful ignorance ...

2 - Being aware when to network or not

The question I never asked myself enough back then was "am I networking enough?". I got the opportunity to travel the world, to work with talented people, of very diverse and interesting backgrounds. Yet neither did I know if I was networking nor when it happened. We respected each other and appreciated each other's work, though I didn't take it further.

Had I been more proactive, and been able to take certain initiatives to build things or embark on new projects together, we could have all brought even more value to ourselves and to the business. The irony was that I had been networking "unintentionally" and probably lost a few opportunities along the way. Better late than never some might say !

3 - Taking it lightly

With time, it finally sunk in. Great so now I have my business cards, I finally reached the grade to get my corporate Blackberry (sorry guys iPhone wasn't out yet !) and was ready to network my ass off, in the bus, on the plane, in airports and at all the events we attended. But, yes there is a but. I made the classic mistake of meeting the CMO from Japan in sneakers and jeans while he was in a full suit ! And I didn't read the General Manager's bio ( ok I admit it, his Linkedin profile) before that supposedly 'informal' coffee meeting at Peet's coffee by the Moscone Center. I can hear the word "amateur" ... you guessed right, he didn't drink coffee! It was more than a bad first impression, it was a proper networking blooper !

4 - Not rehearsing

So now I walk around in a 3-piece suit even in the middle of summer ... and I'm also job hunting. I've been trying to land this interview at one of the top management consulting firms and networking hard still. That day I was meeting for lunch with a newly ascended "partner" to talk 'business opportunities'. Here's where it gets sticky. A consultant likes structure, you all know that. What you didn't know yet, is that I had absolutely NO structure when it came to talking about myself ! I can talk you through how the semi-conductor industry works and even make it sound interesting, but I had zero practice in selling my own story. I could not say clearly what are my best assets, what are my drivers, how I intend to run my career nor why I was in front of the guy. Well, after that meeting ... the rest is history.

5 - Forgetting to follow up

To be fair, sometimes I did get the networking right ... on the off chance.

Little did I know that networking is a continuous process !! And so I stayed respectful and said thank you after every meeting, as my parents taught me well. However, networking rules expect that you write back or return the favour in some way or another. I could have put the person in contact with another person of interest, or give of my time to their cause. Thank goodness, today it's an automatic, almost reflex action !

6 - Networking with the wrong crowd

Here I can't fully claim being a victim of this one, sorry! However, when we know where we want to get in 3 or 5 years' time, we can more easily pick someone who could be a close role model and be mentored by this person. So I made great contact with the guys in Finance, instead of Marketing. It actually reminds me of an evening with "Networking Café" where I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out a way to get out of a dead end conversion. Shamelessly, I used the "let me get a drink" card. For the rest of the evening, I read all the name tags carefully and devised a set of three questions to decide if the person was interesting or not.

7 - Being clueless about 'political' networking

No matter whether we're in a job or looking for one, we encounter people of influence and if you're like me, you often don't know how to behave around them ! As those coming from 'traditional' cultures know, we have a profound respect for hierarchy. So much that it inhibits the simple fact of peeping your head through the COO's door to share a good news : "Yes we landed that difficult business partner!" or "Woohoo !! Our product launched successfully! BEER !?". My more confident colleagues, would even ask to chat over some new strategy over lunch. The morale of the story being, the big bosses are people too ;-)

So how about you ? What's your story ...