How to Network without "Networking"
Networking can be ineffective and annoying.
The default goal at most networking events seems to be this: try meet as many people or, better yet, spray as many business cards as you can, while, at the same time, keeping a smile plastered to your face while you're in the middle of the thirteenth conversation with a stranger about a topic that you really don't care about.
But the real issue with networking is that it's also essential to leveling up your career.
A strong personal network, and by that I mean a network built on real relationships, will open doors the next time you want to find a better opportunity, or if you're on the hunt for a co-founder, or looking to raise a seed round.
And networking doesn't have to be sleazy.
Here's how you can network without "networking," and build your career in the process.
Network without Networking
This past week I organized a dinner for a small group of startup engineers at an NYC restaurant. It was a small and intimate offline group, and it was designed to foster personal relationships between the individuals present.
The goal was to introduce smart people to each other and to facilitate interesting conversation about tech and business in a casual environment.
The engineers around the table ranged from the CTO of a highly successful NYC startup, to engineers that had recently left opportunities at Google (as well as other well-known companies), to others that are in the process of spinning up new startups, and even one founder that's in the most recent batch of YCombinator.
The event was a huge success, with everyone thoroughly enjoying themselves and practically begging me to get the group together a second time for further conversation.
I suppose you could have technically called this a "networking event" since none of the folks present knew anyone else prior to the event (although they each knew me).
But it didn't feel "networky" at all, since it was natural and casual. It wasn't scripted and there was no program. But the attendees were selected based on the fact that they shared common situations and interests.
It was a simple case of the beauty of facilitation through curation. Get the right people around the table (or in the room) and the conversation - and valuable conversation at that - will take care of itself.
During my career, I've noticed that so-called networking events are typically lowest common denominator experiences that attract people who don't really know what they want to accomplish at the event spite of their physical presence there.
So it's no wonder that engineers react to networking events with palpable disdain.
At the same time, I strongly feel that meeting people and building your personal network is one of the most valuable assets you can develop in your career.
So, how to do it the right way?
4 Tips to Building Your Personal Network
- Have a goal : Focus on the specific type of individuals you want to, or need to, meet. What specifically are you looking for in your career right now? What sort of advice do you need? What type of person can be helpful to you in moving a new project forward?
- Do your homework beforehand : Most Meetups publish their attendee list prior to the meeting. With a little research you can find the profiles of the folks that you're most interested in meeting. Message them beforehand to indicate that you'd like the opportunity to meet in person and chat at the event.
- Focus on how you can help others : Many people attending networking events are solely looking to see what help they can get, instead of looking for opportunities to give. If you focus on unique ways that you can help others, you'll find that the quality (the quantity isn't really that important) of your network will grow by leaps and bounds.
- Throw your own event : This gives you an excuse to invite individuals you might not know, but could be people that you specifically want to build relationships with. I.e. if, as an engineer, you want to learn about internet marketing, organize an evening on that topic. Find someone to present a few thoughts, and invite others that you think would benefit, or folks that you feel could add additional value.
Software engineers typically avoid networking at all costs. For good reason - most of it is a waste of time.
But the next time you want to find a new opportunity, co-founder, or find yourself raising money, you'll need to reach out to your personal network.
So start working on strategically meeting a few new people each week. And keep in touch with them over Twitter, LinkedIn and email. Quality is always better than quantity.
A strong personal network will open tremendous doors for you in the future. But as they say, "you need to start building it before you need it."