Networking: more than just a business card

As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. In today’s business and innovation world, it’s hard to disagree with a statement like that. It’s hard to get into any high level industry or research position and impossible to grow your company without collaborating or networking.

Networking is sometimes treated as a shameless word with its reputation of being phony or fake, but in reality, it can honestly be one of your strongest tools in evolving your career. There are those  who roam around networking sessions passing out their business cards to every face they see, sometimes without saying a word. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Networking is one of the best ways to learn about new employment opportunities, to connect yourself with people that can help you or your company, and really, networking will ultimately allow for the chance of any random favorable opportunity to benefit you.

Let’s go through a sample situation:

John: “Hi there, my name is John and I work for <insert random marketing company> and we are currently working on the marketing strategy for a new clean tech project that is on the rise in Ontario.”

Sarah: “Wow. That’s really neat because my internship is marketing innovative projects and new technologies for Ontario companies.”

John: “Neat. Well we’re currently having issues with a lack of staff for the project. Give me your card or contact info and I’ll forward it to our supervisor. If she thinks it’s a fit, we might contact you in the future.”

*3 months pass*

Paula: “Hi Sarah. My name is Paula. You don’t know me, but I got your contact information from John. He said he met you at the < insert Marketing Event> that you guys attended a few months back. We’re really interested in meeting you for a possible position at our firm. If you’re interested, we’ll schedule a time to meet, and you can tell us more specifically what it is that you do.”

Sarah: “That sounds great! We can schedule a meeting next week!”

So before everyone starts flaming me for being excessively optimistic about this situation, just look at it from the other side: Sarah and John go to the event, don’t say a word, Sarah is in a hustle to find a job after her internship finishes, John’s project is going nowhere without extra staff, and Paula doesn’t get her raise for staff employment. Clearly, not every situation will be as overly optimistic as the one above, but it’s still a plausible outcome and certainly not possible if networking doesn’t happen.

Networking doesn’t come naturally for everyone — some people are just more social than others. It can be very intimidating going up to a complete stranger in a high position and introduce yourself, while thinking, “This person probably wants absolutely nothing to do with me.” Personally, I was skeptical about networking at the first couple of events that I attended, but then I realized that it meant I got to learn about the different companies and organizations in our area and industry. And I realized I was learning something that could help me in my own position.

Having been to a lot of these functions over the past months, I suggest you practice your elevator pitch for what you do, then rinse and repeat until you become comfortable at networking events. You can find a bunch of tips online (for example, watch this video), and do some research via social networking sites to make a checklist for yourself before you go to your first couple of events. It’s best to know what kinds of people are going to be at the event you’re attending so you can prepare yourself for the types of things you might end up talking about for the day. Finally, keep in mind when going to these events that the others are there for the same reason you are: to network, connect and benefit.

Justin Policarpio

Justin Policarpio is the Research Analyst for the Golden Horseshoe Biosciences Network (GHBN) Regional Innovation Network. He works with entrepreneurs, industry and researchers to connect them with what they need to help their business grow. He is also the coordinator of the GHBN online initiatives. See more…