Enough with the Networking. Let’s Start Building Relationships.
By Eve Figueroa Karp, 2022-23 J Leaders Academy Fellow
What comes to mind when you think about networking? Maybe that it’s uncomfortable or only necessary when you’re looking for a job? I definitely thought the latter; I had stopped attending career-related meetups shortly after landing my job. But by the end of that J Leaders Academy session, my mindset had changed.
Our presenter, venture capitalist and master networker Itamar Novick, led a discussion on effective ways to network, then shared with us a tool for maximizing our efforts. Although Novick started his presentation with a personal story of how networking as a grad student had led him to the job of his dreams, I realized that networking is not limited to job hunting. Instead, I now see networking as the intention of connecting with new people with whom I have something in common, be it a career, hobby, or even an aspiration. Networking is the first step for building relationships and community.
Fortunately, I am comfortable with walking into a room full of strangers and approaching one to strike up a conversation (and for those who aren’t, I’ve added some tips at the end). I’m just curious about people; I want to know what excites them, what’s important to them, and what are they working towards. Plus, there’s something incredibly thrilling in discovering that we share an interest. At the end of our conversation, we exchange contact info and say “It was great meeting you!”
But then I forget to follow up. One of my biggest weaknesses is staying in touch with people. After our initial conversation – no matter how exciting and engaging – I allow other parts of my life to take priority and I forget to reach out. Sometimes we run into each other again and get a second chance to connect; often we don’t and that’s an opportunity lost.
What Itamar shared with us was an absolute game-changer: he advised us to create a “personal CRM” to systematically manage our network.
I spent an evening configuring such a database* that would store notes on my conversations, remind me to follow-up with people after meeting them, as well as to connect regularly with my fellow salsa dancers, rock climbing buddies, investors, and mom-friends.
When I open the database, the first thing I see is the “Status” column, which highlights the people I need to reach out to ASAP. This includes people I planned to follow up with and anyone I haven’t talked to in over a month or has an upcoming birthday. Here’s an example screenshot of my handy database:
Now when exchanging contact info with a new connection, I open my personal CRM on my phone, where I enter their phone number, along with a few notes on what we discussed and what I need to follow up with them about. The next time I open my CRM, I see my new connection at the top of the page, with a reminder to “Hit them up!”
My J Leaders cohort has such interesting and passionate people, and I hope to stay friends with them long after our program ends. I’m glad that I now have a system that ensures we’ll stay in touch.
(*) I use Notion.so to power my personal CRM because I wanted the ability to add multiple interests tags to each contact. I duplicated this Personal CRM template, then added a few customizations, including the Follow-up on column. I also updated the formula in the Status column to show the “Hit them up” message if there was something that I needed to follow up on.
A few tips for people who get nervous about approaching strangers
- Practice your elevator pitch – who are you and why are you at this event?
- When you first arrive, scan the room to find the host. Introduce yourself and let them know why you are there. Most likely, they will know someone you want to meet at the event and they can introduce you.
- As an alternative, find a circle of people to join. To get in the circle, place your hand on the shoulder of the person next to you. He or she will turn – that’s when you introduce yourself to them and step into the circle. Here you can listen in to the discussion the group is having and speak up when you are ready.
- Have a handful of go-to questions to get past the small talk and hear some interesting stories. Mine include “Is your current job related to what you studied in college” and “What’s a project that you are really proud of”.
- Remember that everyone at the event is there to meet interesting new people, including you!
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Eve Figueroa Karp is a 2022-23 J Leaders Academy Fellow.