Asking for Stories

A different view of networking

@SusannaLHarris

Asking for Stories

I see networking differently than most people… I actually think it’s great.

For me, networking is about finding people with whom I can get excited about things. If I’m interested in a certain topic, I want to talk to someone who knows a lot about that topic – if someone has dedicated part of their life to a topic or skills, chances are good that they want to talk about it, too.

. . .

Science conferences changed my idea of networking. Surrounded by experts in every field, I was often the most junior researcher in a group. This was absolutely terrifying at first, but eventually I realized this was actually a dream-come-true. Every person I turned to could teach me something new about some part of microbiology. Instead of thinking “this person works at a lab that I might be interested in joining so I should talk to them,” I started to think “I wonder what cool stuff they want to nerd out about right now?

Starting to look into which jobs I wanted out of grad school, I used these skills to start talking with people that might be doing something I’d be interested in.

Without knowing exactly what title I wanted, it was scary to start a new conversation, but I had some training in this discomfort. Just like with science conferences, I stopped asking where someone worked and instead asked them why they were at the particular meeting.Instead of asking what they did at their job, I asked what they looked forward to each week. Instead of thinking of them as a business person with much more important people to talk to than me, I thought of them as a person looking to make a connection, too.

. . .

I believe people universally love to talk about passions and stories. Even people who don’t like talking about themselves have some sort of topic, lesson, idea, etc that they will happily divulge to any audience. Just listening (and truly listening, with interest and attention) is something that you can offer.

Anyway, here are some tips that I remind myself whenever I’m feeling weird about “networking”

  • Focus on getting to know a person: nobody is their job title, but everyone has a reason why they chose that job. Through professional dialogue (I’m not saying talk about family, friends, religion, etc), learn more about their interests in the topic at hand.
  • Be genuinely interested: pay attention to what the person is saying, ask questions you want the answers to, delve deeper into new corners of ideas. . . just don’t zone out and nod the whole time.
  • Speak and listen: be honest with yourself, here. Are you more of a speaker or a listener? Both have their strengths but both have their weaknesses. If you’re more of a speaker, shoot to speak only 30% of an interaction. And listeners? You’re going to shoot for 60% speaking. With this goal, all parties will likely end up closer to a 50-50 split. 
  • Remember that everyone is human: we all need validation and community. Everyone has something to offer, even if just as a smiling face that someone can talk to and feel a bit more understood. 

The more questions I asked, the better the conversation went. The better the conversation went, the more I learned and the more likely I was to be sent on to another one of their contacts. I’ve now taken a part-time job in marketing (by way of a networking event over a year ago), and I’m thankful for the information and insight I’ve been given over the last few months. You can bet I’ll keep up with the regular informational interviews – now, with the added bonus of not doing them with a deadline!

Until next week,
Susanna

Posted: May 22, 2020

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