Trading Cards

A while ago I attended a networking event, and I was struck when the attendees I met asked for my business card. I was not concerned that they asked for it, but rather when they asked. My card was often requested as we were initially shaking hands, and another time I was even interrupted while attempting to introduce myself!

This may sound like a trivial gripe from an anal-retentive guy, but it left a non-trivial impression. I had the feeling that these people were card collecting, and not necessarily interested in learning anything about me. My impression was reinforced after I obliged with my card: the person’s eyes wandered about, looking for his/her next networking victim. Clearly it was a numbers game for some of these attendees.

My advice is always to get to know the person first, and ask for a business card when the conversation winds down…if it makes sense to do so. Networking is about building relationships, not about collecting contacts. Make the right first impression by first impressing them with your genuine interest in him/her as a person.

Networking and Community Leadership

If you know anything about me, you know I am an engineer who evangelizes other techies about the absolute necessity and career potency of professional networking. A few months ago I was authoring a talk on that very topic, and I had a realization…but I’ll save that for the end. Read on.

In my presentation, I suggest that successful networkers exhibit certain qualities. Arguably one could list many more, but here are my top three:

  1. Be a servant (versus a self-servant)
  2. Be genuine
  3. Be approachable (versus aloof or pushy)

The first quality reflects priority. That is, successful networks first try to help the other person first. Learn about the person, their job, their ideas, their problems. Listen, ask questions, and attempt to benefit them, either by your own know-how, experiences, or by making relevant introductions to people you know. This selfless servant-first attitude will make a positive first and lasting impression, and often result in the other person wanting to learn more about you and reciprocate.

The second quality is about personal presentation. Some people I’ve met network with a seemingly disingenuous personality. Some scurry about with a spray-and-pray strategy, passing out their business cards to nearly anyone with a pulse. Or, the person speaks as if he/she is trying to (a) make a sale, or (b) talk up how great he/she (or their company) is. Successful networkers are just there to build genuine relationships. Personally, I treat networking as making new friends, and (hopefully) the people I meet will feel treated as such.

The third quality reflects attitude. Approachability brings to mind being friendly, engaging, and easy to speak with one-on-one. Contrast that with an aloof individual who looks around or at the floor while talking, and is difficult to engage in meaningful conversation. Or, contrast with a pushy individual who dominates the situation. Either way, the other person (victim) is uncomfortable and probably searching for an exit.

Remember that realization I first mentioned? It was this: These very qualities of a successful networker are also the qualities of a successful community leader. The leader serves the community first, and is committed to seeing it succeed. The leader is genuine, with each member recognizing a direct, personal connection. And lastly, the leader is friendly and approachable by anyone in the community, or outside of the community who may wish to join.

A final thought: I think that successful networkers also become de facto community leaders to the people in their network…whether they know it or not.