My Not-So-Easy Networking Journey
Here's a written speech I gave to a room full of Rutgers PBL students back in 2016 on some practical tips on networking.
Hope you enjoy!
My name is Eric Pai and I'm a Rutgers business school alumni graduating class of ‘11. And I’m very excited and honored to be here with you all tonight. I'll be sharing some practical tips based on my personal experiences around networking.
By a show of hands, who here is a freshman or their first time attending this networking event. Who here is a senior? I'm sure some of you came here just for the free food...(awkward laughs)
So what i've observed is that most students, like myself, dread networking. Its uncomfortable and awkward to talk with random strangers.
Networking was not natural for me and like all skills, we needed to learn and practice it to get good at.
When I was a freshman, I took a business leadership course and our class was given an assignment to attend a networking event and collect 10 business cards. And unlike all of you who look very professional and sharp, I pulled out my dad’s business suit and tie and roughly polished my shoes, and printed my high school resume right before heading out.
As a freshman, I thought that my lack of work experience deterred me from making any meaningful connections. And so I was ready to just get in, snag some business cards, grab some free swag, and get out. I set my game plan without even having left my dorm yet.
And so on Friday morning, I get to the event on college ave student center and I quickly realize that I don't recognize a single person. I did what most of you probably did tonight; and begin to look for my friends. Except, my friends were still sleeping and no where to be found. And everyone else seemed to know someone else.
So I'm standing there looking around, and at this point, I did the next natural thing that most people would have done. I took out my phone. I tried to look busy. And after 17 minutes (I know this because I was checking the time) I still haven't talked to anybody. And I still haven’t seen my friends. I forced myself to go up to employers and nervously introduced myself and eventually asked for their business cards to complete the assignment without asking any meaningful questions.
And I realized after it was over, I just wasted my time and energy. I was NOT present and engaged. And I know some time tonight, you’ll be tempted at least once to speak with your close friends…but tonight, AVOID your friends. Also, turn off your phones.
Be fully PRESENT and ENGAGED.
Can anyone guess what the average persons attention span is? 8 seconds.
We humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. And I'm sure I've lost a quarter of you guys to the food that's in front of you. And so in our attention deficit hyperactive society, it's become even more challenging to have meaningful face to face interactions.
And what I think most students struggled with is when you do meet someone to network with, is how to start the conversation and asking the right questions.
And before you try to answer that, you have to ask yourself "What exactly are you seeking to achieve from the connections you form tonight?" Is it to socialize? Is it to learn something about a company/industry? Is it to solve a business problem? Or to land a job? The biggest mistake I usually see with students is not having a clear idea of what they're seeking.
I was at a recruiting event at a different school and I met a bright, passionate student who was very enthusiastic about our company. He was a senior, finance major, very interested in learning more about what our company did to outreach to our local communities. Very specific questions. And I told him that our company was always looking for ways to get involved in the community, whether it's thru teaching, feeding, or volunteering. And then he told me his passion was to start an after school program for under privileged kids in his hometown. He wanted to utilize his finance background to help raise funds for this org.
He was NOT looking for a job at our company. And after having a very engaging and meaningful conversation, he later asked for my business card and wanted to chat next week if possible. We chatted the following week and he asked if our company would be interested in partnering with his local organization.
Although we couldn't provide a financial donation, we were able to work with his team and give some product donations. And so he was trying to solve a business problem, and knew the right questions to ask because he knew what he was seeking.
And so ask yourself...
"What are you seeking to achieve from the connections tonight?"
Third and last point: Be interested before being interesting. Do you guys know that you can't talk and listen at the same time. Duh. But really think about it. When you're listening to someone, do you start thinking about what you're going to say? Or what questions you should ask that person? I do this all the time. When someone else is speaking, I'm already thinking about what I want to say, regardless of what the other person is saying. And maybe you know someone here who's a chatty cathy. Don't look at them, or they'll definitely tell you about it later.
Dale Carnegie was a lecturer and an American author in self-improvement who said, "You can make more connections in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." And so introduce yourself with "I'm a student majoring in HR, and looking to learn more about your program." And then ask them questions, get them talking. Ask questions and be genuinely curious. Don’t be the person that sells right away. Get them talking and focus on learning.
Be interested before being interesting.
Before I end, I wanted to share something that's slightly tangent but equally important. I want to briefly talk about something that's happened this past year that's been divisive and toxic for our community. We need unity and understanding more than any other time. And so I ask you, what is your purpose and how can you contribute positively and give back. Why are you here and what makes you excited? What is your passion that fuels you? And it may be a discovery that will take a life time but never under estimate the impact that you can make by acting on your passion and sharing your voice as students. And as Nelson Mandela once said, "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."
So tonight, be present. Take advantage of this opportunity to speak with accomplished professionals from all backgrounds and industries, and be interested before being interesting. And I'm confident that you'll make those meaningful connections for your future (or at least some business cards!)