“It’s great to meet you,” says the stranger at a networking event, smiling broadly as she shakes your hand. “Tell me about what you do.”
Uh oh. Now what?
a) Launch into a five-minute monologue in which you rattle off your entire CV in reverse chronological order?
b) Mumble something vague and self-effacing, check your watch, and flee to the drinks table?
c) Smile back at your new contact and share your one-sentence networking introduction?
If you want to network more effectively, with less apprehension, and more ease, go for answer “c.” Take some time to craft a one-sentence networking introduction, and try it out at your next networking event.
It’s sometimes called an elevator pitch or an elevator speech, although I prefer the term “networking introduction” because it feels less “sales-y” and more genuine. Networking events — such as career fairs, alumni dinners or work-related receptions — are anxiety-inducing enough without feeling like you have to “pitch” to everyone you meet. The point of a networking introduction is not to “sell yourself” but to spark a conversation with a brand-new contact.
So how do you come up with a clear, compelling and concise introduction? Start by asking yourself three questions:
1. “Who am I?”
How would you like to describe yourself to a new contact? Here is where self-awareness and clarity about the strengths and skills you most enjoy using is so important. In your introduction, you can mention a profession, a role, a skill. Here are three examples:
I’m a monitoring & evaluation specialist.
I’m a project manager.
I’m a writer.
2. “Who do I work with, or want to work with?”
What kinds of organizations or people do you help or work with? For example:
Maternal health projects.
Cross-cultural project teams.
3. “What do I help these organizations or people to do?”
You can also look at it as, “What problem do I help them solve? What solution do I offer?” For example:
I use data to improve outcomes for women.
I work effectively with others to complete projects on time and budget.
I tell the story of how an organization’s work impacts the wellbeing of families in developing countries.
Once you’ve answered these three questions, pull your response together into one sentence. For example:
I’m a monitoring and evaluation specialist who helps maternal health projects use data to improve outcomes for women.
I’m a project manager who helps cross-cultural project teams complete projects on time and budget.
I’m a strong communicator who helps microfinance organizations tell the story of how their work impacts the well-being of families in developing countries.
As another example, here’s the networking introduction of Laos-based Devex member Mike Wolfe: “I’m a strategic-thinking WASH engineer who leads teams to make organizational improvements and achieve results in challenging contexts.”
A few tips
1. Some people find it helpful to brainstorm many potential introductions rather than fixating on getting one perfect. Once you’ve come up with several options, see which one(s) resonate the most.
2. Much like a CV or cover letter, your networking introduction should be tailored to the situation. You might use a slightly different introduction when meeting a recruiter at a career fair than when connecting with a fellow development practitioner at a conference.
3. If you are a job seeker and don’t feel comfortable saying “I do X work” when you aren’t currently employed in that area, you can adapt your language accordingly. For example: “I’m a monitoring and evaluation specialist looking to help a maternal health project use data to improve outcomes for women.”
Remember that the aim of a networking introduction is to lead to further conversation. After you share your introduction, your new contact may make a comment or ask you a followup question about part of what you have said. Be prepared to listen for what they are interested in so that you’ll know how to continue the conversation with examples and anecdotes from your work and experience, tailored to your conversation partner’s interests. A networking conversation is not about “selling” yourself as the best candidate. It’s about getting to know each other, exploring common ground and seeing if there are ways you can help each other. And it all starts with a brief and clear networking introduction.
Simply taking a few minutes to develop — or refine — a networking introduction prior to a networking opportunity can help you feel more prepared, communicate more clearly, and network more effectively.
Please share your networking introduction — or get feedback on an introduction you’ve drafted – in the comments section below.
Shana Montesol Johnson is a certified executive and career coach who works with international development professionals who want careers they love, that make an impact, and allow them to have a life outside of work. She has coached clients working for such organizations as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the World Health Organization, U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps, and the Millennium Challenge Corp., among others. Born in the United States and raised in Mexico, Shana has been based in Manila, Philippines since 2004. She also blogs at www.developmentcrossroads.com.
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