My kids find it hard to believe that most schools in the UK only close in late July and that their cousins there are just finishing their school year. (And yes, they restart at the same time as schools do here). Growing up, this was really the only time of year that our family went on vacation, leaving the familiarity of our London suburb behind to rent a cottage somewhere rural and explore the British countryside for a week or two.
Each summer we would meet other locals and holidaymakers from around the country, many of whom hadn’t encountered Jews before. Our parsha opens with Moshe begging for a chance to leave the familiarity of the desert and enter the Promised Land. As Jews we are no strangers to leaving behind the familiar for unchartered territory.
And few things are as unfamiliar for many of my students as networking with strangers. Here are a few networking tips:
- Practice: Ask friends and family members how they got to their destination; that is, what or who helped them get to where they are now and what advice do they have for you? When you start with the “familiar” – people who you already know or your parents, you learn new things and gain practice for similar conversations with strangers.
- Reframe: If networking sounds foreign or uncomfortable to you, think of it as relationship building. And remember that relationships don’t always involve an equal amount of give and take. Depending on the personality, the stage of the relationship, etc., many people enjoy the opportunity to give unconditionally and will readily agree – or even go out of their way – to offer advice without any expectation of something in return.
- Consider the endgame: Most job vacancies are filled via the “hidden job market” i.e. referrals. Studies show that those who refer are generally only loosely known by the applicant (that is, not close acquaintances) and that on average, millennials and their successors will have at least eight jobs during their lifetime. Therefore, whether you are employed or otherwise, it pays to build opportunities into your routine to broaden your network and connect with new people.
- Plan ahead, and be willing to go off script: Plan for chance encounters at a local siyum, shul event, or on vacation. Consider the types of questions you might want to ask someone to quickly learn more about their work and industry. Be curious; it’s much more important to listen carefully and be “in the moment” with them than to get through all your prepared questions. Respond to your inner curiosity and ask spontaneous questions when they talk about something that interests you, and especially when they talk passionately about something that interests them.
Going to a networking event? If you are aiming to have face time with five or six people and the event runs for an hour, don’t spend 20 or even 15 minutes with just one person. You can, and should, follow up after the event.
- Don’t “ask for their hand in marriage on the first date”: In other words, don’t request specific help like an interview at their company or an internship in the first meeting. Do ask for a business card…assuming these once again come back into vogue. (If they do, and you are a student, consider creating some of your own.) Pro tip: At a busy event, ask for two cards in case you later meet someone who could use their services. No business card, or virtual meeting? Ask them “What’s the best way to reach you if I have another question or two?”
As I write this, I’m encouraged by one of my sons who is switching camp midway through the summer. It can be challenging to have just met a round of new people last month and now be doing it all over again. However, as we talked about the relationships he made during the first session, he realized that he had a fresh opportunity to get to know a whole new group of people; rather than considering them strangers, he reframed to view them as not yet friends. Sometimes, kids are the best teachers.