It's summer, and for many startups, that means the arrival of bright-eyed, eager young interns joining the offices for the summer. For our July SparkUp, TechSparks is extending an invite to all Pasadena-area interns to join our Pasadena Tech Community. This is a great opportunity for interns to learn more about the vibrant tech scene here in Pasadena, as well as for the rest of us to learn about the trends impacting young people.
I shared the following tips on business networking with the Idealab Summer Intern Program, and I thought I'd share them on our website as well. These are just my perspectives on networking gained from two tours in business school, three summer internships and countless networking events. If you'd like to add some tips as well, please leave a comment to share it with our interns.
Tip #1: Be Your Real Self.
Networking is about building relationships, and all relationships are built on trust. So the worst way to start any relationship is to fake it. Be real, and let people get to know the real you. In this era of social media, it's pretty hard to pretend to be something you're not anyhow. Also, networking is not just about work and business. Often, you'll build a connection with someone due to personal interests, but that trust will then carry over into business as well. While I don't suggest talking about hot topics like politics or religion until you know someone better, you should feel free to talk about your family and friends, your hobbies and your interests.
Tip #2 : Take Inventory of What You Bring to the Table.
Many people, especially young people, are intimidated by the idea of approaching others because they think, "Why would this bigshot want to talk to me?" That's a great question, and you should really think about that. Why would someone want to talk to you? Take inventory of all of the things you bring to the table. For our interns, I particularly want to stress that you bring a lot to a conversation. You have a different perspective on technology as a young person, you can connect entrepreneurs to your talented classmates who are looking for jobs, etc. Everyone brings something to the table. Be aware of what your value proposition is and take confidence in the fact that people want to meet you.
Tip #3: Find Commonalities.
It's one of the most basic human characteristics to want to be around those who share commonalities. I'm not advising that you go through a checklist to see if you have anything in common. Usually, these things will come up in conversation naturally, but it's also a smart practice to think about what the people at a specific event may have in common with you. Perhaps you go to a school in the area. Others are likely to have gone to that school. Bring it up. When others bring up things that you share, make sure to mention your connection to that as well. And don't drop it there - keep the conversation going.
Tip # 4: Interested is Interesting.
Really engage in your conversations with others and listen to what they're saying. People like people who are interested in what they're saying. Don't you? If you don't understand something, ask them to explain it. The great thing about the tech industry is that it's filled with all kinds of geeks. Geeks are awesome because they're really interested and passionate about they do. Keep asking questions. You'll learn something and expand your network, as well.
Tip #5: Don't Limit Your Network.
I really started hitting the ground networking when I was starting my first company. My sole purpose was to find sales targets, and I would often get frustrated when I got stuck talking to someone who I realized was not going to be a potential customer. This event is only 2 hours long! Why am I talking to you?!! However, over time, I learned that every interaction has value. While someone may not be a potential customer, they may be able to introduce you to someone, teach you something new, give you constructive feedback, become a mentor or sponsor, and/or just turn out to be an awesome new friend. Network with an open mind. Maybe someone can't help you in that moment, but you never know where life will take you, especially in tech where things move quickly.
Tip #6: Connect People.
Perhaps you meet someone who's not directly relevant to your business or interests, but they're a cool person and you know someone who may be in a position to help them. Why don't you provide an introduction? Being a connector is a powerful position. It costs you very little to send an email or make a phone call, but the reward is high. People tend to keep connectors close and will be eager to provide a favor since they know connectors will likely pay it back. Also, I like to think there's something called "network karma." Put good energy out there and watch it come back tenfold.
Tip #7: Your Network is Everywhere.
Don't just limit yourself to networking events. Your network is comprised of people, and people are everywhere. I find that some of the best places to find worthwhile business contacts are places that require waiting, such as airports, airplanes, parking lots and elevators. These are empty minutes where are you can't do anything all that productive. The story of how Media Temple became a sponsor of TechSparks is another great example of this. I was stuck in the valet waiting area at the Montgomery Tech Conference for an hour and half. I was outside of the conference, but I knew that most of the people also in the valet waiting area were probably people in tech. So I started going around and introducing myself to people. One of them turned out to be Todd Greene, VP of Marketing for Media Temple. When MT joined as a sponsor, we had the funds to launch our first SparkUp and a great Steering Committee member, Mark Medina. Just because the event is over doesn't mean that the networking opportunity is over.
Tip #8: Check In. Tweet. Make Your Presence Known.
Social media is an awesome tool for networking. I rarely tweet in my day-to-day life, but when I'm at a big event, I beeline for the hashtag and post something right away, even if it's just a "At @TechSparks #SparkUp." It's a great way to bring people to you. People can check the tweetstream, look up profiles for people in the area, and then come looking for you, rather than the other way around. I also use location-based apps like Highlight and Circle so that people know I'm in the vicinity. You can also check-in and make your presence known via Foursquare or Facebook. If you're at an event looking for specific types of people, post that. Make your presence known so people can find you.
Tip #9: Follow Up.
Networking events are only the beginning of the conversation. It's important to continue building and mainitaining relationships beyond. I recommend collecting business cards and then taking some time the day after the event to follow up. Follow up can be as simple as looking up the people you met on LinkedIn and adding them to your network. This will send a message to the person and remind them that they met you at the event. Also, now that you're connected on LinkedIn, you have that contact within reach for the future. Another good practice is to take notes on the business cards as reminders. For example, say you spoke to someone who you promised to connect to someone else. Take note of that on the card so that you're reminded to send them an email during your follow up time.
Tip #10: Ask People Out.
Networking is a lot like dating, but with the purpose of business rather than something romantic. It is completely appropriate to ask people you meet at an event out to lunch or for a coffee. If anything, I highly recommend it. The one-on-one time is a great way to get to know someone better and build a relationship. I especially encourage interns to request lunches and coffee dates so that you can dig deeper into potential career paths and companies that interest you.
Tip #11: Remember You Are Your Brand.
You are your brand. Like Pepsi and Disney, you need to be aware that your reputation. Be careful to maintain the image that you want to convey - trustworthy, reliable, honest, etc. And be wary of associating with people who damage your brand. Like I said in Tip #1, all relationships are built on trust, and it's important to convey a positive brand image. Follow through on your commitments, respond to emails, be accesible and put good energy out. All of this will echo through your network and their networks.
Tip #12: Take Advantage of This Opportunity.
Take advantage of this opportunity! Being an intern is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I've actually done 3 summer internships and would do more if I could. Generally speaking, people want to help interns learn. Email the CEO of your company and ask them if they'd be willing to take some time to meet with you. While that may not be time they'd offer to just anyone, for the intern, they just might. In fact, when I was an intern at Apple, there were urban legends that some interns tried this with Steve Jobs and actually got meetings! Students have a much easier time getting access to people. I actually met the owner of Barney's Beanery, one of the TechSparks sponsors, when I was an MBA student and was writing a paper for my entrepreneurship class. David Houston was generous with his time, and I got the opportunity to learn about his entrepreneurial journey. As luck would have it, our paths crossed again when I started TechSparks. Take full advantage of your current situation because unfortunately, you'll eventually have to graduate.
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