Networking first impressions

This evening, me and a friend thought it wise to go to a SIlicon Valley networking event found on meetup.com. The event looked promising on the site and we were excited to meet some cool people (ok, single successful women would be nice too).

We should have heeded the warning of the random dude we met at the pool last weekend. “Oh, I have been to those,” he said. “It is like 90% dudes who want to talk business and 10% girls who are married.”

Long story short, he was right.

But, to make the most of the opportunity, we hung out, grabbed a free drink and met some pretty interesting folks. It was an eclectic mix of technologists young and old, employed and on the hunt. On the whole, it was a pretty decent time and I made some promising connections.

Perhaps the most fascinating interaction of the night, though, was one that started off quite rocky. As I was speaking with my buddy, off to the side, a man jumped almost directly between us. “Coders!?” he inquired.

Off-put by this man’s lack of social courtesy, I decided to reply in a rather sarcastic fashion. “I think I took a class in C++ a long time ago,” I retorted.

Needless to say, this man’s hopes took a hit. His company hosted this event, in desperate hopes of finding some code monkeys to help along their development needs. This is not an uncommon thing in Silicon Valley – demand for knowledge in computer science is at an all-time high. What is uncommon however, is the lack of tact employed by this professional.

I have been told two key pieces of advice, somewhere along the way, that are extremely applicable for this situation. Number one: first impressions are everything. Number two: a good salesmen never begs. It would appear that this well-intended individual did not abide by either of these rules.

Consequently, while I, specifically, was not interested in this company, I am now hesitant to introduce or plug it to my friends with coding abilities. I cannot trust the enterprise, all because of a short interaction.

The key takeaway is two fold. First, a focus on first impressions is absolutely critical to success in networking. Dress well and exhibit proper body language, as well as vocal delivery. You will come off as confident and interesting; someone people want to know.

Second, do not over-sell yourself or your company. Find the right balance of inquiring about the individual’s interests (both in and outside of their career), your passions and goals, and mutual hobbies. This indirect path will reduce or eliminate desperation, while providing an element of human connection.

Through practice, these two simple tools can be incorporated into your networking repertoire, helping to build connections. Remember, its not what you know, its who you know.

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