Afraid of Networking?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages.

When I was in the middle of my MBA last year in Smurfit, there were some fellow students who viewed networking as a dirty word, something that makes you uncomfortable, an activity that is all about using other people to get what you want or to get ahead in some way. This is not networking. Yes, networking is about self-promotion and trying to get ahead but it is about so much more. Networking is meeting new people, hearing their stories, exchanging information and ideas. When you are a student this exchange is somewhat unbalanced because as a student you do not have as much to exchange. But guess what, the people you are talking to were also in your shoes at the start of their careers. And another truth is most that people want to help, to pay forward the help and advice they received at the start of their journeys.

Personally I love networking. The reason is simple, I love talking, telling stories and I love meeting new people. I also happen to be trying to sell the MBA World Trophy to everyone who will listen. There’s nothing wrong with finding out who is going to be attending a function and thinking about what you would like to talk to them about. Doing this is showing that you respect other people’s time and understand that their time is valuable and they probably don’t want to be stuck talking to me for any length of time. Fundamentally networking is just an extension of selling. One of our speakers at the MBA World Trophy, Vivek Wadhwa wrote a fantastic article about the importance of networking that is well worth reading. If you are a student you should remember that no matter what job or situation you find yourself in you need to put forward the best version of you at all times.

In another life I was a TV producer and my first boss in TV gave me great advice, when you arrive in someone’s house with a film crew you have a responsibility to ensure that you are remembered for the right reasons. Having a TV crew in your house is a highlight for the vast majority of ordinary people. So no matter what is going on in your own life, no matter how terrible you feel, you have to make sure you leave a positive impression. This has stuck with me and is something I try to achieve no matter where I go. I’m not always successful at it. The same thing applies to networking. Another important thing to mention is the power of LinkedIn. This is an awesome networking tool. Personally I believe you should always include a personal message when sending someone an invitation to join your network.

Finally, and I’m not biased when I tell you that this year’s MBA World Trophy and StartUp Dublin will be like networking heaven. So if you are interested in the lineup please join us. We would love to meet you.

Here’s a list of my networking do’s and don’ts

  • Be approachable.
  • Be polite.
  • Be yourself.
  • Don’t immediately head for the corner after scoffing some free food/drink. It’s ok to be nervous/uncomfortable, 90% of the people in the room are feeling the same way.
  • Try to find out who is attending in advance and find two people you would like to talk to about you.
  • Don’t overcook talking to your targets. Get in and out quickly. You can always talk to them later that evening. Remember they more than likely have other people that they want to talk to.
  • Always follow up with everyone you meet.
  • Don’t take no for an answer, I’m not saying to be pushy, just get creative. And finally, my favourite.
  • Every single person in the world will meet you for a coffee (except TV celebrities).

– Stephen Smith, MBA World Trophy team and FT MBA 2012

Red: the MBA World Trophy Competition and the StartUp Dublin Innovation Conference takes place in Dublin 16-18 May 2013.

John O'Loughlin, MBA World Trophy team member and FT MBA 2012 alumn, Enda Kenny and Stephen Smith