Do you know how to network in Silicon Valley? 10 ideas to make it easy
10 Musts and Dos
Yesterday, a new client from Europe came to me because he was confused about how and where to start networking in order to get a new job. People he met here in Silicon Valley convinced him that a good way to get quick results was to network his way into a new position. Many jobs nowadays go to people who have friends in the company they want to work for.
This client had been so busy with his company that he hadn’t made any contacts outside of his work and he now had one month to find something new. If I remember correctly, he also had concerns about his visa.
Many articles have been written about networking; however, this article attempts to answer the real concerns of international business men and women who have been here in Silicon Valley for a short while and who have no grasp of networking techniques that were laid into the cradle of most US professionals.
As my client and I talked for more than two hours, we decided to make the process easier for him and we put together a list of what groups he would like and what he should prepare to make networking an enjoyable affair.
1. Find the associations that are likely to have people in your field, you can do this with a Google search, do a meet-up search, and ask friends and colleagues where they like to go to meet new and interesting people.
However, don’t limit your networking to just groups similar to your profession, expand the search to other interest groups -that way you reach more people and groups who don’t have similar professions; they can give you new contacts and job possibilities to explore.
2. In Europe, we are used to being generalists and have not learned to present just the pertinent slice of our interests. So, be precise and focused and know what you want. This helps people you meet focus on what you are actually looking for and they can also remember it better later on.
Always give examples, i.e,. don’t just say you are looking for a job in international high tech with X program, tell people exactly in what industry you have experience , what role you’d like to take and how they can reach you [FB, Twitter, LinkedIn] if they see a job opening for which you qualify.
3. Before attending a networking event, find out what kinds of people typically attend and see if you can gear your “elevator speech” and your examples to their fields. You’ll also be more credible if you understand what they do and can speak intelligently about it.
4. The most important thing is to practice what you are going to say and have an engaging elevator speech. You can practice in front of the mirror (smile!), you can videotape yourself, you can practice with a friend and you can have someone video tape and critique you. The main thing is that you do it and not start saying some random things,when someone asks you what you do, or what s/he can do for you.
5. People ask me: “I’m standing at the door looking in at the event; how do I talk to someone, when they are all in groups already?” Meeting new people at these events can be daunting, especially when you go the first time. However, most people here in Silicon Valley/US are very friendly and are ready to include you in their conversation if you join their group and introduce yourself. If you feel really uncomfortable, an easy way to connect is to find the person who organized the event and ask him/her to introduce you around.
6.“How do you start the conversation?”, my client asked. You can talk about your surroundings, about the organization that’s putting on the event, the food, the drinks, the weather – anything that is non confrontational and puts the person you are talking to at ease. Remember, other people are sometimes nervous about meeting new people too. Then you can ask the question that comes the easiest in a networking event – “and what do you do?”
Listen carefully to what they do, so that you can find common interests and/or see if you happen to have something in your repertoire that might help or interest them.
7. So now you’ve talked and listened and you want to move to some new person, but you don’t know how to leave without being rude. You have several ways to do it; first realize that most people you’ll meet are there to network and to meet new people and make new connections.
They understand that you’d like to meet more people and move around the room. Therefore it’s fairly easy to say that it has been great meeting them, that it was fun to talk to them and that you can get together at another time, but right now you should both move on to make other contacts.
Or, you can say you want to refresh your drink, get something to eat – however, you better do it or the person you just left standing there will feel really feel bad. A lot has been written about being genuine while networking and this is the time to show it.
8. You’ve met many people, and now you have at least 30 business cards, how do you keep track of all the information? The first thing you do (before you get home) is to write comments on the cards about how people looked, what you talked about, their special interests or whatever it takes for you to remember them. Actually, the easiest thing nowadays is to link with them on LinkedIn later on, but send a message telling them where you met and maybe some other detail you discussed. Don’t send the generic message LinkedIn prepares for you to send out.
9. Of course the way you keep in touch is an important part of networking and it’s essential for people looking for jobs. Send emails, see people in person, invite people for coffee or a drink and after you’ve found the networking events that suit you, go regularly and make friends. Because ultimately, if you aren’t in a group of people where you want to make friends, it’s no fun and won’t lead to any job contacts.
10. I know that for Europeans, the whole networking scene can initially seem “phony” and self-directed – a bunch of people collecting business cards. But I think this is where we don’t understand the American mind set. A networking environment which works and is successful is full of people who are open to new things and are genuinely concerned with getting to know and benefit others.
We have to remember that doing good things just to do them is part of the American social landscape; about 10%+ of the annual US economy comes from the non-profit sector and “normal everyday people” are involved helping their communities on a regular basis. Therefore it is not far fetched to understand that they want to help us when we meet them networking and that there is no ulterior motive guiding them.
The best contacts I’ve made took a long time to make, and it was really after we became friends and understood what the other was doing, that we could help each other. For me, this has led to wonderful friendships which have gone beyond the boundaries of networking. It’s up to us to create genuine relationships and keep working at them; and I can’t resist throwing in one of my favorite quotes from Voltaire who said in Candide, “il faut cultiver son jardin” * and that’s what we have to do to make the whole networking process satisfactory and worthwhile.
(* You have to cultivate your garden)