Seth posted a great networking post that I could have written myself... In fact, I pretty much did write all that in my failed attempt to write a book for college freshmen. However, he's written it a lot more concisely worded (I tend to be overly verbose, if you haven't noticed) and tailored it to the VC world.
I'll add a few notes directly to his, and then I'd like to include a snippet from the book I was writing about what exactly you want to get accomplished when you sit down and have a networking meeting or call--the information you want to walk out with.
One thing I would add on to #5 and #6 is using Pubsub. If you meet someone that you'd like to go the extra mile with in terms of staying in touch, create a Pubsub feed via RSS that includes their name, the name of their company, and their industry... perhaps even a competitor or two. This way, you get relevent news that you can share with them up to the minute and comment on. That will keep you current enough to be interesting. There's nothing worse than sending stale articles to people in an effort to try and impress them. (Well, I suppose there are lots of worse things, but its just an expression...)
Ok, so here's what I wrote about what you should be talking about in a networking call or meeting, and its written to be relevent across industries.
You might think that questions like "What do you do?" are too obvious and the kind of thing that you should have figured out before the interview, but to be honest, I don't think that outsiders really know what a firm does until someone inside explains it to them. Now, obviously, you don't want to come to us and say, "What is Union Square Ventures?", but perhaps you could still ask stuff like, "So I researched about what your investment strategy was and I see that you invest in IT-enabled services, but can you give me a little more detail on what kinds of companies fit into that catagory as you define it? How did you come to the conclusion that was the best place to invest?"
Ok, so its much wordier, but that's essentially the "What do you do?" question. You just can't ask "What do you do" because you're supposed to have researched this beforehand. Truth is, its really hard to research exactly what someone does unless you're a very experienced person in their industry, and since we're talking about networking as a younger person starting out, I don't think some improved verson of "What do you do?" is such a bad thing.
Ok, so here's the passage from my book that didn't go anywhere...
"Ok, so no coming out and asking for a job
upfront. We’re just doing research at
this point, right? So, what do we
actually want to know from these people? The four most relevant questions a student can ask networking contacts
do you do? The Old Standby. It’s the easiest question to ask and get
answered. The key here is that when
someone tells you that they are an astrophysicist, you need to make sure you
know what that means. Some follow up
questions to make sure you have the answers to make sure you understand exactly
what someone is doing include:
do you do that for? (Are they self
employed, work for the government, a firm, etc.?)
would they want that done? Why does it
help them? (Of course, don’t ask if the
answer is obvious. If someone is a
firefighter, don’t ask why the city wants fires put out, lest you come off like
everyone who does what you do work for the same type of company that you
do? (Some lawyers work for law firms,
others work for corporations, and because of that, their jobs are somewhat, but
not entirely different.)
We’re not interested in only what someone does for a
career. Remember that we said our idea
of success involves your whole life, and that who you are isn’t simply defined
by what you get paid to do for a living. What does your contact do outside of work? Do they have a family, a hobby, or are they
involved with a charity or volunteer work? It is important to get a sense of the whole person that you are talking
to, not just one facet of their lives.
did you get into that? This question
will give you answers about their past, but may uncover some helpful clues that
you could use for your future. How they
got into what they are doing now basically outlines the steps you might need to
take should you be interested in pursuing the field that they are in now. It is also important to understand whether or
not they actually planned on getting where they got into, or whether they
pretty much fell into it. What seems to
happen a lot is that the actual job they do is unexpected, but it often stems
from poking around in some related area. This is why the message behind this book is not to start planning, but
just to start poking.
do you think it will lead you? Obviously, no one can predict the future, but most people at least have
an idea of where they would like their jobs to lead, or at least whether or not
they want it to lead somewhere else. Is
this the last stop on the line, or just one of many?
that you have a sense of the present, past, and future of this person’s self
navigation, you need to measure how genuine it is. Maybe this person is at a place in their life
that is the exact opposite of where they actually want or intended to be. It is important for you to ask how ideal
their situation is and what, if anything, they would change about it, besides
the pay, of course.
the most important thing you can ask every contact you speak with is for a
recommendation to speak with someone else. This will ensure that your network grows. Whether the recommendation comes from your
indication of interest in a particular field, or just your contact’s idea of
what you find interesting, trying to get each contact to lead to a new one is a
great way to build up your network and increase your chances of coming across
something great. Just ask the person if
they know of anyone that they think you would be interested in talking to. Keep it open-ended.
mind that networking is a two way street as well. What you tell them is just as important as
what they tell you. By telling people
about your interests and your search to find out what it is that you want to
do, you accomplish several things. First, you impress people that you are an ambitious, motivated person
who is trying to be thoughtful about the direction they set themselves out
in. Having people think well of you
isn’t such a bad thing, of course. Second, it gets the word out about your interest. Every person you talk to then becomes a scout
for you. In the back of their mind is
now an alarm set to go off when an opportunity for you comes their way, and the
more people you talk to, the wider you cast a net that might catch something
that might prove interesting to you.
point, for the average freshmen, networking should be all about asking a ton of
questions. Yet again, this requires us
to throw away antiquated ideas about what’s cool and what isn’t. Remember how, in high school, two minutes
before class ended, you’d get all annoyed about that one kid that had to ask
just one more question. Well now, asking
questions are a sign of intelligence. Smart people ask questions—they know what they don’t know. You’re at college to learn—not just in the
classroom, but in every facet of your life. You should be out meeting new and different kinds of people, asking them
about where they came from, what they want for themselves, what they value and
who they want to be. When you are at the
gym, you should ask people to show you new ways to fend off that freshman
15. When you walk by an open door in
your dorm and someone has a great inflatable couch, ask them where they got
it. Learning off of other people is a
great skill to have, and all it takes is a little effort.
does this work? Do you just call up
everyone in your newly created contact list and rattle off five questions? No, definitely not. First off, unlike a telemarketer, you want to
have some consideration for trying not to catch the person at a bad time. Contacting the person beforehand to schedule
a second conversation is the best way to go. In general, e-mail is a great icebreaker if you have their e-mail address. I find that when people drop me an e-mail, I
can answer it on my own time, and an e-mail will never inconvenience
anyone. With a phone call, you never
know what they might already be up to when they pick up the phone. Everyone is different, though. You should
try and judge it based on your knowledge of the person. Drop someone a call or
e-mail just to see if they might be willing to answer a few questions about
their career and when it might be convenient for them to talk. Never send anyone questions. You want to actually speak with these people,
because that forms a better connection. When you have a good conversation with someone, as we said before, it
builds a real relationship. When you
e-mail questions, it becomes more of a one-way relationship about what they can
up a time to talk in the future also gives the person an opportunity to get
mentally prepared for what they might talk to you about. Even if you don’t give them the questions
beforehand, knowing that they will speak with you about what they do will
probably cause them to do a little thinking about it beforehand.