Networking Pointers From NextGen

Originally posted on GovLoop as part of the Next Generation of Government conference in DC on Friday July 25, 2014. Follow @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

On Friday afternoon, FCC CIO David Bray and former president of Young Government Leaders Dave Uejio spoke to NextGen about a subject on every aspiring leader’s mind: networking.

“The perception of networking is that it’s transactional, sleazy, gross,” Uejio explained, “But it doesn’t have to be.”

There’s more than one form of networking.  The first is the kind that comes to everyone’s mind.  Uejio calls that form The Dark Side. 

“People on the Dark Side get right to the point: who are you, and what do you do? At the center of it,” Uejio went on, “these guys want to know: ‘How can I use you?  What can you do for me?’  You recognize these people instantly.  Nobody likes them.”

“But there’s a Light Side to this,” Uejio went on.  “You don’t have to fall for the Dark Side.  You can abide by the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Find out about them, get to know them, and express genuine interest in their lives.  Smile.  And mean it.”

The great thing about every networking event, Uejio explained, is that there are unspoken dynamics.  Think of happy hour as the best party you’ve ever been to, but one where no one can remember who the host is.  Become the host: take the initiative and ask questions of everyone.  For example:

  • “Hi! I’m Dave. Great to see you here.  Tell me about what you do.  What do you find challenging?”

“See how I keep it friendly?” Uejio asked. “I also avoid the alphabet soup of acronyms and jargon that flow from government jobs. I’m inclusive and instantly approachable.”  The open ended questions also give your new acquaintances a chance to talk about themselves.  “This is great for the introverts among us,” Uejio explained, “because people are happy to talk about themselves.  You can just listen.  They do all the work, and will still remember you fondly.”

“After all,” he said, putting it in perspective, “networking is public speaking with a one person audience, mixed with active listening.”

Bray also offered his perspective as a senior executive.  “Don’t ask how to get a particular job,” Bray said.  “If you’re with people more senior than you, questions are far better than assertions.  Questions keeps the space open.  Ask executives, ‘How can I develop in my career?’ or ‘How to step up to the next level?’  And when it’s your turn to talk, remember quality over quantity: be the person who says the most interesting thing, not the most things.”

Bray reminded attendees to network early and often, and not to put their eggs in one basket. “Remember, even if you’re qualified, and even if you network, for every job you get there are 20-35 you don’t get.  The key is to keep networking.  Be ready when opportunity knocks.  Build your network before you need it.”

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