Have you ever walked into a room filled with so many people, in a bid to “network”? But all of a sudden, you are overwhelmed by the crowd and the noise. Everyone seems to be talking to everyone. You then take solace in the quietest part of the room, away from all the noise and drama. You stand there scanning the room, ‘who do i “network” with?’, ‘who here looks approachable?’, ‘How do I break into these conversation circles?’. Eventually, your social battery hits zero per cent, you pick your bag and leave the room consoling yourself with “I’ll try again another day”.
This was me for my first six months in DC. Before moving to DC for grad school, I had heard this phrase countless times — DC IS ABOUT NETWORKING. I knew my grad school experience was not business-as-usual. I planned to go for conferences and networking events at organisations within and outside DC. I wanted to build a professional network. I wanted to secure that internship and job through my network. But guess what, networking was my biggest challenge as an international graduate student.
Fast forward to today, I have learned so many networking tips and tricks and I do not pick my bag and leave without talking to anyone. The first tip is to know that it is not about networking with so many people but about building these relationships over time. What is the point in accumulating so many business cards if they will eventually move from your pocket/purse to your bedside drawer and finally to the trash can?!
When next you walk into a room like this, just look for one person to talk to. Smile and be yourself (I can’t overemphasize this). Let the conversation flow naturally. Do not just talk the whole time, let them talk too and listen! Find a connection between two of you (it could be anything — sports, fashion, pets, same place of birth, similar interests, etc). Connect with them on their most active social media account and get their email too. Now you can raise your shoulders high and walk out of the room feeling fulfilled but do not forget to keep in touch with them over time. Remember, it’s about building a relationship over time. If this works with one person, then you can try with two, then three and boom! you will soon realise you are a networking champ.