Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The art of networking...

Ever wanted to invest money in a dream start up? The kind which offers you its shares at 10 rupees when it has no takers or few? And then, like a dream come true, over the next 10 years expands and multiplies into a big company taking its shares northwards and making you richer in the process? Not too many can be a part of such a dream come true, you say - except say those who invested in an Infosys when it was offering its IPO in the mid 90s?

Well, think again. Welcome to your MBA class. Your class or batch is a set of students seeking to make their mark in the world, corporate or otherwise. As an oft spoken theme in this column, get your MBA to work for you and that happens, not from the point when you are enrolled into an MBA or earlier when you are enrolled into an MBA coaching course such as IMS. It happens from the point you decide to do an MBA - which could preclude all of this by a few days or weeks or years, or if you are unlucky, a few years after you finish your degree. And this is your start up. Your network. Which will grow manifold over the next few years.

One of the things an MBA course is useful for is to build your network. Now, don't start off by saying, I don't network or I don't need a network or I don't have a network. (or saying that this is the only gain from the course - both attitudes are wrong).

Even if that is true, the world is not a static world. People move jobs, countries and that nerdy geeky scholar might be a vice president at the hottest company while your operations research scholar who you thought was fit only to wear a boiler suit might be heading operations in some
unit. The family businessman might turn out to be the best banker or the best banker today could turn out to be running a large NGO. The back bencher might start his own firm and do very well. (And these are live examples of many people I know.) Don't think now. Think 10 years down the line. You will be surprised at the naivete of your perceptions then when you see your class. (Atleast, I am, even today.)

Doesn't matter if you are finance (or marketing) - get rid of those labels. Befriend those marketing (or operations) guys. And those HR folks who you think are doing the touchy feely stuff, are in the hot seat of hiring at any place. Net net, your class is your network. The network that will help you in the coming years. And you are in the middle.

Don't stop at that.

Network with your professors - many of them consult in the real world. Work with them on projects that they have. And that will expose you to the contacts that they have. Network with the contacts. Always remember though to start by working, then by networking. Don't try the reverse - you effort will fall flat on its face. Networking is one of those things that just happens. Do your job, do it cheerfully and the networking is a byproduct. If you do something for the sake for networking, be forewarned, it will not work so.

Network with seniors. Be part of alumni association gatherings, projects. Seniors are your window into entry into the corporate (or entrepreneurship) world. They are more than your network - inspiration, actually, if you chose to see them that way. Again, think 10 years on.

Network with those who do your summer internship. Network with the students you meet there (if you are a group or a team of interns).

So, pause to think. How to build your network? Does it mean collecting visiting cards that become outdated before you figure out a way to file them? The famed Rolodex has its values, but there are other, more useful tools out there today. Or does it mean collecting phone numbers that change at the drop of a hat. I am sure most of you know what I am hinting at.

The first day that you enter the corporate world either as an intern or through your final year project or your first job, create a profile on Linkedin. Indeed create your profile the day you decide to do an MBA. (If you are a non MBA reading this, it applies for you too. It applies
for every profession. The future workplace is a linked one!)

By the time you complete your education, it would look impressive. But it is early days yet to make it work for you. Doesn't matter. Keep building and connecting with people (preferably people you have worked with) through the social network. If someone likes your work, get them
to write a recommendation for you on it. It will stay with you longer than a mail or a letter will. If your network has queries (some members post queries in linkedin), answer them if you have an answer.

Many of those who you met will move on in life. Move on to newer jobs, newer cities, newer careers, set up companies, liaise with the latest and greatest. As will you. So, when you are looking for a job ten years down the line, all your investments would have multiplied into the way I described the start up dream I described at the start of the piece.

The seeds you sowed at the start of the career will grow into a tree or a forest over 10 years. The MBA network you started is now fully grown network. Now, that's doesn't mean each of your contacts are waiting for you. If you had added value to them when you met them, surely they will, but otherwise, there is no point. The only way to add value to yourself in the network is to add value to the contacts in your network.

How? All I can tell you is that there is no one way. There are many ways. And as it says in The Matrix, I can only show you the door - you have to walk through it...

(An edited version of this was published in Advancedge Feb 09)

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