Submitted by Vaho in November 2012
They say that every snowflake is unique: shape, size, crystalline formation, all of them differ in some small way. Much like a snowflake, you are also unique: your education, skills, cultural background, these form you. Now imagine yourself on graduation day, relieved to have completed your studies and yet anxious to get out there and start a career, scattered along the job market like all the other snowflakes, where everybody looks the same. It is not until closer inspection, that we see the real beauty of a single, unique snowflake. With all of the skills and education you have picked up over the years, you could be the most enchantingly formed of all, but if no one notices, you run the risk of melting away with all of the others. So, how do you get noticed then” you ask? Simple: your networks, your connections; it is all about who you know and how you show.
You Are A Business
For some, establishing a solid connection comes quite naturally, while for others it can be quite the awkward affair. Whether you are the former or the latter, it is important to understand the correct approach to take, when networking. The first step is to treat yourself as if you were a business. Think of yourself as a corporation, which has a budget, assets, capital requirements, overhead, and investors. And all of these work in unison in order to push a product…YOU! No matter how excellent the product may be though, without the right marketing, you will never be able to compete with everyone else out there. So you must target the right markets.
If you are searching for a job in Investment Banking and find yourself doing an internship at one, you want to buddy up with employees who can actually get you places. It will be extremely unlikely that an Executive will ever remember your name; but his assistant or his analysts probably will. So make sure you get to know them well, their quirks, the jokes they laugh at, even their favorite coffee. And that is when you approach them. And do not just limit yourself to socializing with them at the office but most importantly, outside of it as well. If they are going for a group lunch, you go with them. If they are going for drinks after work (and you are of age) you most definitely go with them. It is in situations like these where people get to see you for who you really are and will actually make a point of remembering your name.
I Pity The Fool Who Can’t Peacock!
The next step is to be able to sell yourself effectively. Assume that everyone else you are competing with knows more than you do about networking. Assume that they have been doing it for years and they know who to target and how. It is therefore imperative that you stand out, especially at designated networking events. I remember a senior Accountant who told me about his experience at a recent event, where fourth year Accounting students met with managers from firms and traded both pleasantries and business cards. The students would give their usual spiel saying things like “Hi I am so and so and I want to be an Accountant…” “Great, so does everyone else!” He thought. After cycling through all of them, no one had made any kind of connection with him…until he met Steve. Like everyone else, Steve spat out the usual spiel, told him about his aspirations, his background and the Accountant thought nothing much of him. That is until Steve gave him a business card as he said “Let’s do lunch” and shot him the finger guns. The accountant was stunned, could not believe that something so simple and cheesy could be so effective. And believe it or not, they did end up going to lunch and Steve landed an internship at the firm.
You may not think that Steve’s finger guns were that special or that the Accountant was just a goof, but out of blanket of snowflakes, Steve set himself apart, he pea-cocked and established an effective connection. Whether it be with a hand gesture, a piece of clothing or just a whacky-business card, be sure to stand out (or peacock) in order to sell yourself effectively.
If you are not as confident as Steve and you do not think you can carry a conversation, try taking an Improv class. And yes, I mean the class for actors. These classes teach you how to keep the conversation going. They teach you to treat every interaction as if it is a game, a back and forth that cannot have any awkward pauses but must maintain a continuous flow. The longer you can keep the game going, the more likely that you will have a meaningful interaction. Look into taking a series of stage one Improv classes and allow yourself to play, to emerge out of your protective shell.
Who is Your Connection and What Can They Do?
Finally, maximize that connection. If you meet someone, make sure you follow up with an email saying how much of a pleasure make their acquaintance. Better yet, remember a detail about them or the place you two met and bring it up. For example, comment on how good the food was or how that person really opened your eyes to some new fact. Positive reinforcement is the by far the best way to get stuck in someone’s memory. If time goes by and you do not think you will ever see them again, do not forget about them, because these are the times when you will most likely run into them again.
Personally, I have a BA in Humanities, and I currently work alongside analysts in the Commercial Banking sector, where you usually need a business degree of some sort to even be considered for a position there. But I landed the job because I had met my hiring manager at a party a year before. I subsequently followed up and I would see him from time to time throughout the year at different functions. When I went for the job, I did not realize he was the hiring manager until I walked into the room. The best part was, that I felt so much more at ease in my interview, simply because I knew him, he knew me and we felt comfortable with each other.
Flake, Float and Fall
I cannot tell you how many people I know who are struggling to even find a job these days, even though they have the skills and the know-how. And it is not that they are impersonal, difficult or lazy, but it is because their networks are either non-existent or they are not using the people they already know. You need to open your eyes, do a Google search events, listen to the people around you, and be curious about who they are, what they do and most importantly, ask for their help. The best connections come from the most unexpected places, so keep searching, keep floating like the glorious snowflake and eventually you will fall into the right situation.