Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mid-Week Reads: Networking Stories

I'm cheating this week, by putting in a few links and also adding a couple of personal anecdotes.

Wearing an interesting scarf or pin can help with networking.

Personal story time: I was a painfully shy, self-conscious 21-year-old when I went to interview for b-school. It was the only school I interviewed at. I did horribly at the group discussion because I was too quiet to speak up. The interview was with a panel of intimidating (to me) people, and I was given a quick, silly topic to speak on as the next test. I started, I fumbled, I shut up.

This old guy on the panel then kindly asked me to talk about my dupatta. Somehow, that unlocked my thoughts--I talked about the hand-woven silk from Assam and wove in a quote by Gandhi! I saw everyone visibly thaw and begin to smile.

The rest of the interview seemed easier. And I got in! And that's where I got really interested in marketing and met the Guy, so life would have been very different otherwise.

Here are things you shouldn't do in networking.

There are some awkward networking stories in the comments here.

But my best networking story is a happy one. It's also the story of how I met LC, who's been featured on this blog before. (Pasting this from another discussion where I'd first offered this story.)

I graduated from business school seven years ago. A few months into my first job, I got an email from a first-year student (who later came to be known as LC) in my school (the program is two years, so I'd never had any contact with him previously). His email was a classic what-not-to-do. He called me "sir," mis-spelled my company name while calling it his "dream company" and so on. I had even less patience then than I do now, and sent him a scathing email in response, pointing out that I am a woman and correcting the company name, but also (I think) offered some brief advice.

I learned later that my email mortified him (and I am embarrassed now and would be kinder if it happened again), but he sent a very gracious apology in response. The next year, I was in a different job in a different city. My school has yearly "outreach programs" where a team of students spends a few days in one of several big cities and tries to network with preferred potential employers and alumni.

LC was leading the team that came to my city, and he called me to get in touch. He was so polite and gracious over the phone that I (an introvert who is scared of networking) went to meet the team (with the Guy, also an alumnus). We had a nice meeting, and later LC connected with me on Orkut (don't tease me: I've long since deleted my profile) and kept in touch, sending occasional messages. He got placed after he graduated and continued to keep in touch.

One day around four years since that first email, LC and I had a longer-than-usual IM conversation, and he told me he wasn't happy with his current job. We talked about his options, he expressed interest in working at the Guy's employer (where I had also worked earlier). I passed his resume on to the Guy, who was away for work at the time, and kept bugging him over the phone until he contacted HR and LC was reviewed for an opening. (Of course, the Guy didn't just refer LC on my word: it helped that  LC had been unfailingly polite and nice in his interactions with the Guy as well.)

Long story short,  LC was finally hired by the Guy's employer a few months down the line. It's been over three years, and he's still there. Also, he ended up working directly with the Guy and living close to us at first, and for a while I had an awesome friend who would walk over most weekends. (And yeah, he hasn't stopped laughing over the hard time I gave him in my first email.)

I think this story really illustrates how to do networking right: apologize if you goof up, be nice even when you're not asking for something in return, and keep in touch!

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