It was a beautiful evening on the 28th floor of the Credit Suisse building in San Francisco where Haas undergraduates and alumni gathered together for fun, food, and learning. The San Francisco chapter of the Haas Alumni Network hosted the event and Haas professor Eli Kass facilitated the learning. After taking some time to get acquainted undergrads and alumni filed into a large boardroom where professor Kass began his presentation on networking. He started with explaining what networking is, and what it’s not. “Networking is relationship building, it’s not how many Facebook or LinkedIn friends you have or how many business cards you’ve horded.” Kass explained, he went on to stress the need for the relationship building to be “passionate and genuine,” and that today networking has become “too ritualized.”
This ritualization leads many undergraduates (and even alumni) to mindlessly shake hands and exchange
business cards at networking events because it’s something “you’re supposed to do.” Kass warns against this, suggesting that when your goal is networking you shouldn’t go into it looking explicitly to get something, unless that something is trying to know others better. To that end Kass mentions that networking events tend to result in low quality networking and that some of the best networking occurs when individuals involve themselves in clubs and organizational activities. The reason for this is that you have a better chance of meeting others who share similar interests with you at these types of activities as opposed to forced networking events.
But why are networks important? To many networking is all about getting a job, and while this is true (56% of people find jobs through their network), networks are so much more than an employment tool. “Networks are the oceans in which we swim, and its members are portals to other networks.” Kass explains. It’s through networks that we learn new things, it’s through networks that we bring together diverse skills and innovate, and it’s through networks that we find personal fulfillment. However in order to make the most of your network it pays to be mindful of who’s in it. Professor Kass warns against homogeny. The more your network is made up of people similar to you the more likely it is that those people have similar networks. This greatly limits your access to other unique networks through the individuals in yours. The more diverse your connections are though, the more likely it is that people in your network will connect you with new distinctly different networks.
Maintaining that diversity can help make you a what Kass calls a “Super Connector”, someone who is in a brokerage position between networks capable of bringing different people and ideas together. Being in that position makes you attractive to other outside networks drawing new people to you and with them new opportunities.
If the concept of super connectors interests you there’s a fun exercise you can do to find out if you or anyone you know might be a super connector, here’s what you do: Take a piece of paper and make three columns. In the first column write your network contacts, in the second record who introduced you to those contacts, and in the third
column record whom you’ve introduced those contacts to. If you see a common name in that second column that person is probably a super connector and if you’ve been introducing a lot of people you may be one too. If you don’t have many names in your third column you may be hoarding contacts and should try more often to introduce your contacts to others in your network. You can even take this a step further and examine the demographics (Age, Position in the Company) of the names in your columns and see how diverse your network is.
But what about job and internship opportunities? It should come as no surprise that networking is good for that, but the value in having a diverse network may not be so obvious. As it turns out you have a better chance of finding work from individuals that are more casual contacts that best friends. It’s because of that; diversity in your network is so important. The parts of our networks we tend to be closest to, professor Kass explains, are the individuals who we’re most like. Which means they know the same information and people we know, which in turn means if you’re looking for work they probably wouldn’t know of anything you haven’t heard already. Yet if your network is diverse you have access to individuals who are less like you and may know different things, giving you a greater chance of finding out about job opportunities you may not know about.
Even with the benefits, building a diverse network isn’t easy. Meeting new people can be hard, and even more
difficult if you’re looking for people who are different from you. The trick to connecting with people you wouldn’t normally associate with? “Get to know them.” Professor Kass suggests, ask them about themselves and odds are good you share at least some common ground. Find one thing you share in common and start to build from there. Pretty soon you’ll have created a new link in your network opening the door to new opportunities.
Closing the lecture professor Kass reiterated the importance of being genuine and passionate when networking, and that when you go out to network make sure it’s to build relationships not just your rolodex.
Following the lecture alumni and undergraduates took part in a “Kula-Ring” exercise. Each attendee was given a post-it to write a personal wish. The wishes were then collected and read to the group, after which they were posted on a whiteboard at the front of the room. Then if anyone in the room could help or knew someone who could help fulfill that wish they attached a business card or a small post-it with their contact info on the wish.
Everyone then collected their wishes along with the attached contact information, bringing themselves one step closer to granting their wish and growing their network in the process.
Following the “Kula-Ring” exercise Haas Alumni Network president Aaron Mendelson reminded the undergraduates about the HAN-SF Undergraduate Leadership Award (HULA)and brought closure to the event.
At the beginning of the night professor Kass mentioned his goal was to “make people rethink networking and what it means.” All things considered, I’d say he was successful.
For those interested in connecting with the San Francisco Chapter of the Haas Alumni Network you can find links to their Facebook and LinkedIn pages below: