Networking Event Hacks
This post is about a skill that can save you ten years….or more.
Did you know that one of fastest ways to get ahead in life (but surprisingly used the least) are the right relationships.
But when you are a women, or a minority from a foreign country like me, it all just seems harder.
Here’s what my friend SW (a powerful women) learnt about how you might be sabotaging yourself.
- Save the buddies (other ladies, minorities, friends) for later, go for the white guys: The world we live in isn’t fair, at least not at the moment. In business, most power and influence still sits in the hands of (white, middle-aged) men, it’s just the way things are. Therefore, focus your networking efforts on where the power and influence lies – your long-term ROI (return on investment) will be higher.
Personally, I hate that this is so and I’m working hard every day to change the state of things for those coming after me – but for now, I focus my efforts on changing things from the inside, working through people with power.
Irrespective of what event you attend, do a proper “scan” of the audience. However, don’t “hang out” with ‘people like you’ just because – unless they are more interesting to me than the white men!
- Avoid blending in: As minorities, you will still need men to realize your goals, but that doesn’t mean you have to look like them (unless we really, really want to). In the early days of my career, I did everything I could to blend in. I wore black or grey trouser suits with white or blue shirts buttoned high underneath, I tied my hair back, I used minimal make-up and jewelry and I wore brogues most of the time. Did it hurt me? No, but it bored me to death and made me become one with the wallpaper behind me. As I matured, I vowed to be more true to myself and morphed into a – surprise, surprise – woman!
Today, these are my “look” principles:
- I don’t wear coordinated trouser or skirt suits – instead I wear dresses, skirts, jackets and trousers with a feminine cut and fabric
- I don’t wear black, unless it is for a funeral – instead I wear a lot of colours that suit me, sometimes combined with camel, navy or grey
- I wear statement jewelry and accessories like silk scarves to put the “icing on the cake”
- I let my hair loose in a feminine cut and wear makeup – red lipstick and nail polish are my absolute favourites
Firstly, it makes me happy. Secondly, bold colours and jewelry make for excellent ice breakers in networking conversations – for women and for men. Thirdly, it makes me more memorable to others.
- Make use of being a minority: From the start of my career in Financial Services, I’ve been part of a minority. Most often, I’ve been the only woman in the room. 16 years in, I’m so used to it I hardly ever notice anymore. However, with time I have learned to use the fact that I’m a minority to my advantage.
When networking, I aim for joining those groups where there are no women present – so far, I have never been turned down. Sometimes, I even do it with a joke of “You gentlemen look like you could use a bit of female company…” or “Did you gentlemen coordinate your wardrobes last night, you all look dashingly similar…” As a minority, you stand out – people notice you more whether you like it or not. Therefore, I strive to always ask the first question in the Q&A session following a presentation – because so few women do, speaking up will give you more visibility compared to a man doing the same thing.
- Charm isn’t forbidden, nor is humor: At the beginning of my career, I so badly wanted to be taken seriously that I made myself very serious – removing any humour or charm from my conversations, although I had (and still have) plenty of both. Today, I see many women and minorities repeating the same behaviour – which in many ways is counter-productive. Yes, as your conversation partner I take you seriously, but at the same time you may bore me as a person and I’m likely to go elsewhere to find more “spark”. In terms of making yourself an interesting, memorable and human conversation partner in networking, don’t be afraid to use your charm and humour – powerful men do so all the time!
- Show determination and “lean in”: Networking is real work, it can be tough and it requires courage and self-confidence. I find women & minorities to be extremely hard-working and courageous, but quite often lacking in self-confidence. Been there, done that. For many years, I walked around feeling like a fraudster, waiting to be detected. Gradually, I built my self-confidence and accepted that I had to “fake it until I made it”.
Therefore, standing tall, walking confidently and “leaning in” to conversations is my core piece of advice to all female and minority networkers out there.
What are your key factors to networking successfully as a woman or minority ?
I would love to hear your input.
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