A network in progress
When I lived in Philly, I was a professional-level networker. As the Community Liaison for Venture for America (VFA) Philadelphia, I was responsible for establishing local VFA champions, setting up speaker series, and acting as a point person for local entrepreneurs who were interested in meeting and hiring VFA Fellows. With this volunteer position as my excuse, I felt confident setting up coffee dates weekly with local entrepreneurs, investors, and other startup types.
Networking through my job, while rare, is pretty easy, too. If I go to a conference and start talking graphene, heads turn. Except for a few instances where I received unwanted attention for being a young woman, rather than for being an engineer selling a cool idea, I’ve met great people at conferences, some who have stayed in touch and helped facilitate other business.
Networking for myself, however, is a whole different story.
In the last week, I met a woman at my part-time job who, after asking about what program I was doing at MIT, told me her company was hiring materials engineers. I was so excited that I didn’t ask her name! A few days later, my CEO was leading some friends on a tour of our labs. Normally, groups like this will stop to introduce themselves, and then hurry away, distracted by our 3D printers (named for "The Princess Bride" characters, of course). This time, the three of them stopped to talk for a minute. One of the men was especially interested in what I had to say, as he had worked in Boston earlier in his career. Again, I didn’t catch his name.
Lesson: Ask for people’s names earlier! There’s a super quick fix.
It’s not just me, though. Networking for yourself is difficult for most people, especially if you’re not clear on what you hope to get out of it. Two different VFA Fellow attempted to reconnect by sending me random graphene links, no explanation. These were people I had considered friends, so it felt especially weird to have our relationship reduced to a “networking connection”.
Lesson: Focus on genuine relationships.