Sunday, July 12, 2009

Networking: Follow Your Stomach

Between the late nights with friends and early mornings with coworkers, I’m dedicating a large amount of time to finding a permanent, and most importantly, a paid, job. From putting my CV on websites like, to attending networking meetings, I’m giving it all I got. Last week I went to two CSR/Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) briefings.

At the first event, put on by, I managed to strike out big time. How did I blow it? A couple things probably went wrong, but if I had to say it was one thing, it was that I came off overly interested. Sounds crazy huh?

Picture a room full of business people, some looking for simple insights into the topic discussion, others looking to expand their network, and still others searching for a new job. Everyone in that room proceeds with caution, not wanting to wind up in a conversation with the guy who has nothing to give and everything to take.

Enter Kevin Burns, who at times can be an extremely interested and curious person, and you have a recipe for disaster. Instead of enticing others to engaging with me, I went into question mode, which in the setting I explained above, probably threw up a number of red flags. I left feeling like I had annoyed half the people I spoke with.

The second event, put on by, went much better. I practically hung out at the refreshment table the whole time, gobbling up delicious chocolate snacks and casually chatted about anything other than business, allowing them to bring up what I am doing in HK. Apparently when it comes to networking, following your stomach is a decent strategy.

Another “friend of a friend” had an experience similar to mine which I found very interesting and insightful. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara in CA, he went looking for adventure and business opportunities in Vietnam. Good times ensued.

After a while I figured out that sitting next to high powered global executives at business conferences, chatting, trading business cards, and sending follow-up emails is not a particularly effective method of getting a job. No one really gives a damn about you, and usually the important people in a company aren't involved in hiring for entry level positions. Big companies have HR departments and systems in place for finding new employees, they don't just hire random folks because they sat next to the CEO at some conference. I was just a business groupie (lamest vacation ever).

Eventually I found that the key to networking with more senior executive director types was to meet them in a non-business context, like a cultural or charity event. My first consulting contract came as a result of a charity event that I had volunteered to be the photographer for. It was a bike race. I motorbiked out in front of the cyclists, squatted on the ground, and got shots of them rushing past markets and cows and temples. It was a lot of fun. At the after-party I gorged myself on free snacks and idly chatted with whoever was within 5 feet of the food table. Somehow I ended up talking about my experience with business plans, and pretty soon I had a consulting gig helping write the business plan for a health communications NGO that was applying for its next round of funding. I wasn't even wearing my suit.

You can find his entire Vietnam story at

On a separate note, last night was beer fest in LKF. Over a lighthearted conversation about global economics with an entrepreneur from Mumbai, I was able to demonstrate enough intelligence for him to propose a business interview. Don’t really know where that’s going to go, but I am hopeful after enough of these encounters, something will stick.

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