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Anyone can network better

By Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk, a career columnist at the Boston Globe and author of the book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, spoke about networking at the Johnson School as a guest speaker for the 2007 Black Graduate Business Association (BGBA) symposium, "Your Professional Portfolio: Development through Leadership, Networking, & Wealth Building." About her experience here, she wrote: "Whenever I go somewhere to speak, there's a lively Q&A session afterward, and Cornell was no exception. I love the questions after a speech, because I always learn so much from the discussion." She wrote this column on her plane trip home following her visit.

Penelope Trunk's Johnson School presentation on Networking Development

For those of you who don't think networking is a high priority in your career, think about this: Most jobs aren't advertised, so they aren't available to you unless someone tells you about them.

What's more, people with mentors get promoted more than people who don't. But a good mentor doesn't just happen – you use your network to find potential mentors until you discover one who fits.

So here are three tips with not-so-common networking advice.

1. Don't worry about remembering everything about lots of people.

We've all seen the sales guys with their networking spreadsheets, full of every contact's spouse's name, all the kids, all the kid's birthdays, and what he wore the last three times he met with everyone on the list. Relax. You don't have to do that. Know that you'll remember everything you need to know about the people you can count on, the ones you make a real connection with. You'll build those relationships over time, with repeated, meaningful interaction and conversation. All their details will stay in your mind because of your connection.

And then there will be people you really want to connect with (but don't know well yet), because you know they'll be able to help you a lot. You don't need a spreadsheet to prompt you – just add a task to your to-do list, reminding you to remember them.

Other, less predictable relationships will grow organically, over time. You can help that by being patient, responsive, and vulnerable.

And focus on making memorable connections, not gathering contact data.

2. Try courtship networking.

Networking is just dating, fundamentally speaking. The two really aren't different at all. So enjoy that; you've had a lot of practice.

Think about how you date, and then mimic that for business. Are you comfortable opening up socially over drinks? Then go to cocktail parties. Did you meet your mate online? Then focus on tools like LinkedIn or instant messaging.

Even if the other person is someone you'd never date, you can still use dating techniques. After all, you still must woo the person into thinking about you and your life somehow. And Cosmopolitan magazine has reported that men believe the best place to meet women is at the office, which is just more evidence that the dating analogy works.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, really takes this to heart. He sent me flowers after missing an interview we'd scheduled, and guess what – it worked.

3. No matter who you are, you're not too shy to network.

Everyone thinks they are shy sometimes. Most people think I'm extroverted because I do a lot of public speaking. But in college, I was so shy that I took books to parties because I just couldn't just talk with people – so instead, I read in a corner. But you can consider me as proof that anyone can overcome shyness.

The Shyness Research Institute reports that shyness is actually the fear that you won't be the smartest, funniest person in the room. The irony, though, is that all you need to start a conversation is a good icebreaker. And those come from just being nice, not being a genius. Others respond well when you use a simple overture like, "Hi, how do you know the hostess?" because they understand that you are being vulnerable – you are trying to start a conversation with someone you don't know.

There are people who are truly shy, but the shyness disorder is typically about sensory input. The truly shy can't process lots of input and produce corresponding output at the same time. This doesn't mean they can't network – it just means they need a more controlled environment. They should try to network in a small, intimate setting rather than a large, bustling room.

So just remember that networking isn't something to avoid, because you probably do it all the time, anyway, without realizing it. You date. You go to parties. You sit next to people at lunch. You get to know other people well enough to remember their details. You're probably already networking enough naturally to find that job that's just ahead, the one that's unadvertised. You just need to start seeing yourself that way.

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