How Can I Master American-Style Networking?

If you network consistently and systematically, it can take you where you want to go.

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Juan Gomez Vega ’09

Illustration by Kevin Sprouls

In Argentina, where I’m from, as in many countries, there is no culture of networking. If I were to tell someone, “I like your company; can we have coffee?” they’d think I was trying to take their job. At Columbia, networking seemed to be second nature to my US-educated classmates. I — and many fellow international students — feared that a lack of networking experience would be a barrier to getting hired. I spent the summer of 2008 at Morgan Stanley but left without an offer due to the global financial situation. I had to network myself into a full-time job, so I developed a system and stuck to it. Though I find these tips especially helpful for people educated in countries where networking is not emphasized, anyone from anywhere can benefit from this system.

9 Ways to Master American-Style Networking

Make a list. Write down the companies you’re interested in. For each, add the names of people you may know there. Don’t be discouraged if your list looks short. It will grow.

Think beyond Google. Use LinkedIn with the School’s alumni database. First, visit linkedin.com/alumni to find other Columbia Business School graduates. Then, go to the Business School’s alumni page (gsb.columbia.edu/alumni) and sign in to the directory (bit.ly/alumni-directory). Visit websites of companies you want to work for and read bios to find Columbia Business School alumni.

Say “so long” to shyness. In advance of calling or meeting someone, get pumped! Before important phone calls, I stand and smile for a full minute, which makes me feel confident. Listen to music or watch a movie scene that inspires you. Personally, I watch Al Pacino’s pivotal speech in the 1999 football movie Any Given Sunday.

Reach out. Ask a mutual acquaintance for an introduction. Then, follow up with a short e-mail. If you only have a phone number, have a script and keep the conversation focused on why you are reaching out, then invite them for coffee.

Realize you’re not bragging. Many people see talking about their achievements as overly boastful, but in places where American-style networking is common, talking about your accomplishments is seen as a sign of competence.

Practice talking about your accomplishments. Put together your personal pitch. While telling your personal story may not be a norm in many cultures, people from places where American-style networking is done often value individualism. People want to hear what makes you unique. Make sure your pitch includes where you studied, what you’ve done, your skills, and where you want to go with your career. Curate your pitch, varying it for each person you meet.

Make it face-to-face. Ask your contact to meet at their office or ask them out for coffee. Meeting at the office can give you a sense of whether you’d be a good fit there. Meeting in a café can be a good way to develop a rapport. In January 2010, I moved to London without a job and began networking; I was drinking about eight coffees a day! Within two months I received offers from multiple real estate private equity funds. Prepare thoughtful questions. When you’re there, ask for advice, show your industry knowledge, and demonstrate interest in the person. Don’t ask for a job or hand over your résumé unless asked. A coffee meeting is about building long-term relationships. If it’s going well, ask for introductions to other potential contacts.

Track your progress. I like to put everything in an Excel sheet. Mine contained notes from my coffee meetings, as well as how much time I had devoted each day to networking. Find what works best for you, but the idea is basic: you need to hold yourself accountable. Think of networking as having another job; it is not something you can do in your free time.

Find a mentor. If American-style networking doesn’t come naturally, find a mentor who can diagnose the gap between how you’re comfortable acting and what’s called for in a networking scenario. You should also contact the School’s Career Management Center. I was lucky to have advice from alumni and my former bosses in Argentina, and the invaluable help of the Career Management Center.

And One Thing Not to Do

Don’t get discouraged. Not everyone you reach out to will be ready to hire you or even be friendly. In my experience the ratio of responses to e-mails is about four to 10 for alumni and less for non-Columbia people. But it’s a numbers game — you will eventually receive responses. Don’t sabotage your effort by getting down. The bottom line is: if you network consistently and systematically, it can take you where you want to go.

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