By Stephanie Small, January 2014
While graduate school can often seem solitary, it isn’t all about days spent in the library, tracking down texts, or night hunched alone over your laptop. There’s an important component of socializing as well. From classroom debate to classmate comeraderie, interacting with your fellow students can sharpen your mind and soothe your soul. It’s important to remember, too, that some of the most important forms of socialization include the dreaded networking events.
The term “networking” is much-hated because it gives off an air of insincerity. An image comes to mind of balancing a cocktail and a tiny plate of food while attempting to make small talk. While extroverts often enjoy schmoozing up strangers, it can be particularly painful for introverts, who would usually rather be anywhere than a room full of people they don’t know.
But you gotta do it. Post-graduate life can take dramatically different turns depending upon who you know and the connections you have, particularly in fields like business. And even if you plan to enter academia, you’ll need to have good relationships with your future colleagues. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles, such as getting published in the top journal in your discipline, suddenly become so much easier if you’ve met someone affiliated with the journal and made a good impression. And speaking of making a good impression, if you’d like to be memorable in a good way, try these (introvert-friendly) tips at your next networking event.
Use the other person’s name
It’s pretty common to get caught up in the moment of introduction, and realize a few minutes later that you totally spaced on your new acquaintance’s moniker. There’s a simple remedy for that –“I’m so sorry, I realized I spaced your name. Can you tell me again?” The sooner you ask, the better. Once your acquaintance repeats his or her name, repeat it back. The repetition will help your memory. Plus, what’s the one word you love to hear most? That’s right – your name.
Be able to explain what you do in one sentence
This is particularly true if you’re networking for job opportunities or joint venture partners. Be specific and compelling – “I research tropical infectious disease” rather than “I’m in med school”, or “I specialize in intellectual property law” rather than “I just finished law school”.
Talk less, listen more
Especially when you’re nervous, it can be easy to dominate the conversation with chit-chat. If you notice your new acquaintance’s eyes wandering or body language closing down, finish your sentence and ask him or her a question. And listen to the response, rather than simply waiting for him or her to stop speaking so that you can continue your thought.
In a networking situation and in life in general, very few things make you look worse than talking crap about other people. We don’t mean expressing a dislike of the current government or a particular band – we mean throwing your boss under the bus or insulting a colleague’s professionalism. If you’re asked to comment on something and you know your only answer is negative, try the Mona Lisa smile and take a sip of your drink. If you need to say more, just remark “I’d rather not get into it” or try a neutral descriptor such as “fine”. This allows you to deliver the gist of your opinion and still stay classy. Change the subject as quickly as possible.
Before parting ways, get his or her business card
Send a follow-up email within a few days to let your new pal know you enjoyed your meeting!
We know it’s tempting to hang out by the bar all night, or to find that one person you have in common and become a Klingon. But if your mission is to meet people, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by hiding out.
Honor your breaking point
If you max out at an hour of small talk, don’t push yourself – make a graceful exit. On the flip side, if you’re having a blast, stay as long as you can!