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How Nervous Networking Can Lead To Career Opportunities

Managing Expectations
Personal growth

21 June, 2020

Stephanie Tan, CISO of Marcus at Goldman Sachs, shares her self-tailored rules on successful networking and explains how they helped her not to be nervous when networking.

Problem

I don’t like networking -- plain and simple. But networking is an essential part of evolving your career and certainly played a crucial role in how I got my first job in New York. It was at the Lesbians Who Tech event and it was one of my first real networking opportunities. I was so nervous and I didn’t want to go. After all, the conference was to start only the next day, so I could easily skip the pre-conference networking event. Eventually, I decided to go and follow my self-tailored networking rules.
 

Actions taken

Go get a drink. I had not gone to New York that much before and going to a bar felt nice. I straightaway went to grab a drink which allowed me to establish a mini-purpose, but more importantly to turn around, assess the land, and scan the people in the room. What I saw looked reassuring -- everyone else was trying to look relaxed but were obviously equally nervous as I was.
 

Doing nothing is okay. People were preoccupied thinking about how they look like and no one was looking at me. If I was just standing there doing nothing for a moment, that was okay. And yes, I was standing there doing nothing, feeling like a sore thumb in the room, but no one was paying any attention to what I was doing.
 

Go through the food table (twice). Getting a drink and going through the food table allowed me to navigate the crowd, inspect them, and identify the small groups I should join for a chat. The same could be applied to strategic visits to the restroom that you could repeat multiple times.
 

Find a group of three people. I spotted a group of three and approached them. They welcomed me and they were very keen to talk to me -- this was a networking event and everyone wanted to talk to someone else. I later approached two more groups of about two or three people (four people are already a crowd that will break down to two or three people).
 

Have a good time. We were chatting and having a great time. We talked about what we did for work, what we like to do, what we were doing in New York, etc. After having met these people and getting to know them, every time I saw them for the next couple of days felt like seeing a friend. I could always approach them and be comfortable talking to them.
 

Putting people in touch with one another. As I already met six or seven people I felt like an old hand in the room. I was ready to leave when I stumbled across a woman with whom I instantly delved into a captivating conversation about some banking technology. I remembered that I just talked to another woman who was working in that same technology and was able to put them in touch with each other. At that moment, I looked like someone who knows everyone else.
 

Following up. The next day at the conference I met again the woman I talked to a day before and we dug deeper into building the security program at her company and she was curious to learn more about what I was doing and how she can attract the right candidates. Our conversation continued over the next three, four months and at one point she asked me if they could hire me. This was a great opportunity and eventually, through that experience, I got picked up by Goldman Sachs.
 

Lessons learned

  • Most of these networking rules I found in books and articles that I was reading and they are commonly known. What's not common is picking some, adjusting them, making them your own, and sticking with them.
  • Be open to meet new people. Other people are also nervous and they are also there to get to know more people. You don't have to go there to get anything out of it other than to accomplish a mission of wherever finish line you set for yourself.
  • Networking is an individual sport. While it’s nice to go with someone else, make a commitment to separate upon arrival and return every once in a while if you need an anchor. You can always join each other's conversation but don’t stick for too long together.

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