Networking

I went to the nextNY happy hour last week, which got me thinking about the different ways in which people network.

  • There’s the “agenda” networker, who wants something, whether it be funding for his startup, a new job, or an introduction to a VC, and he’s at the event to find it. He’ll talk to people long enough to determine whether they can help him in his quest, and as soon as he determines they’re not useful (which generally doesn’t take much longer than the introductions), he moves on in search of more fruitful connections. I find this sort of networking understandable, but annoying. A Kantian would call it unethical because it treats other people as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

    Measure of success for the agenda networker: Whether he advanced his agenda by attending.

  • There’s the “pitch” networker, who is using the networking event as a venue to practice pitching himself. This is a variant of the agenda networker, but it’s less about advancing the agenda, and more to practice the pitch itself. Networking events are a great low-pressure environment to practice pitches because if you screw up one pitch, you can move on to the next person and try a variant. You just have to hope that the person with whom you failed the pitch isn’t the one that can help your project.

    Measure of success: Practicing and refining the pitch

  • There’s the “rolodex” networker, who tries to meet everybody at the event and get their business card, diligently jotting down a couple notes on each business card to remind himself of who each person is. After the event, he will carefully file the business cards away in a folder as a record of all of the networking he is doing. He justifies this to himself in that he might someday have a need like the agenda networker, and he’ll already have the connection he needs in his folder. Of course, because he hasn’t maintained the connection, he may not be able to get what he wants based on a brief two minute conversation at a networking event three years before.

    Measure of success: Number of business cards collected.

  • There’s the “connector” networker, using the terminology of Gladwell’s Tipping Point. Connectors are natural networkers, who talk to everybody for a few minutes and make each person feel like they’re the center of the universe for those few minutes. They’re the ones that effortlessly work their way through the crowd and everybody who attended remembers talking to them.

    Measure of success: Not applicable. They were born to attend such events and experience great joy in them. I’m jealous of them.

  • There’s the “wanna be my friend?” networker, who is common at technology networking events, as he hangs around clumps of people in conversation and hopes to be invited in. He’s looking for friends outside of the office, and figures that hanging around with other technologists is a good place to start. He’s not at the event for business or investment reasons, but for personal reasons.

    Measure of success: Meeting some people they can go for drinks with later.

  • There’s the “personal relationship” networker, who I’ll call, well, me. I don’t have an agenda, I’m not hoarding business cards – I’m there to have good conversations, and possibly meet some new people. The nice thing about this style of networking is that I can restrict myself to talking to people that I find genuinely interesting without feeling like I’m missing out on the point of attending. It also lets me make real connections with people, rather than the shallow exchange-of-business-cards connection that the rolodex networker makes. There’s always the chance to build on these sorts of ties in the future, as Carnegie would observe, but by not starting with an agenda, the connections feel more real.

    Measure of success: One good conversation and/or finding one person that I want to stay in touch with in the future.

  • This list is by no means comprehensive, but lists a few of the archetypes I have come across at such events.

    What interests me is finding an event structure that can accommodate all of these different networking styles and goals. Different event formats lend themselves to different networking styles, as I discussed in my post about Meta-Brainjamming. A happy hour is great for the connector or the “personal relationship” networker, but it’s less amenable for the agenda networker, who’d prefer to break off conversation if it’s not useful. Conferences might work better for that type of networking as there’s always the excuse of a session to attend. Round robin one-on-ones like the BrainJam had would be great for the Rolodexer, but annoying for others.

    What kind of networking do you do? What advantages and disadvantages do you see in it? Before going to a networking event, do you assess what you are trying to get out of it, and whether your goals are compatible with the format of the event?