As much you learn from Day One while pursuing an Imperial MBA that networking is your everything (whether looking for a new job, a business partner, a flatmate, the-one-and-only-hair-dresser or a new friend),  you immediately ask yourself (and the college’s career consultants) the HOW question(s). How do I approach people, how do I talk to them, how do I ‘close the deal’ and exchange contact details, how do I follow up – HOW DO I MAKE IT WORK? Fair questions!

If, just like me, you find ‘working the room’, seeding your business cards across to all the visitors, working hard your few minutes with each person to get the trophy in a form of their business card and ‘maintaining 5 seconds eye contact’ without making an impression of a creep – pathetic and inefficient, and in the ideal world you’d rather speak to less people but have a meaningful conversation, I am happy to share some good news. First, you can train your networking skills just like a muscle – the more you practice, the better it shapes into the result you want. Second, Ardell Fleeson shed firm rays of light on the killer networking techniques, as well as killer interview questions, at Imperial Business School event today.  The tips that I found most appealing are below. Please apply with caution and test in advance in a save environment of family and friends (after all – these are networking tips deriving from the entrepreneurial proactive and direct American spirit and experience).

Key actions to practice before, at and after the networking event:

  • Ask questions (think them through in advance – and check some sample questions below) – people love talking about themselves – their role, achievements, experiences
  • Take notes (might be tricky over a glass of champagne at a black-tie event, so this assumes you are at a networking event and you are slightly more junior than the person you are talking to)
  • Write a few white papers (this will be one of your ways to be remembered during the conversation and a reason for you to follow-up with the person you are talking to)
  • If and when you have your Andy Warhol’s 15 mins of fame (more likely 1 minute in your case though) to rise and shine – focus on your top three messages, top three things you want the people to remember about you when you leave the room (there must be something special about you that would make sense in the workspace/at the networking event – reflect and practice with family and friends when in doubt!) – and go for it
  • Follow-up within 24-48 hours
  • Actually, go to the industry events! Force yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and just do that. Your effort will pay off!

Some safe questions to ask at the beginning:

  • How did you come to be at this event?
  • How do you know our host / the host (amend depending on your involvement in the event) / the organisation hosting the event?
  • Do you attend other events like this one? Which ones do you find most exciting/interesting/appealing/useful/etc
  • What’s your company’s single biggest challenge? (provided, you have some knowledge of the industry and the company and have touched upon this in the conversation)

Perfect questions for MBA students (not only this is extremely natural for an MBA student/graduate to ask but it also provides a perfect opportunity for your vis-a-vis to rise and shine – remember, people love talking about themselves, especially when they share their expertise and provide advice, especially when you asked them about it!):

  • What’s your advice for newly-minted Imperial MBA grad?
  • What’s the best advice were you given as someone entering her/his career?
  • If you had to do it all over again – how would you change your early steps?

Last but not least – follow up and keep track of your progress. And do it now (not tomorrow, day after or next time). In the words of many successful business people out there, ‘if you start looking for a job when you need a job, it’s already too late’ – so get on your feet now and maximise your chances for success.