One skills I have been working very hard on these last few months is networking. I'm not going to claim to be a genius at it now, but I used to be the type to go to a conference and only talk to the people I went with. The horror. I had occasion to go to a professional conference recently, and since I am reading Keith Ferrazzi's book (Never Eat Alone, I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but these are the concrete skills I am trying to put into practice), I wanted to rock the networking. This was the conference I attended as a result of my volunteer work, which is in a fairly new field for me. Perfect timing, I'll try everything I can think of, and if I totally blow it, this isn't a field where I have a reputation, or even know that I want one, so I can be as brave and brazen as I can stand. I promise another short post about the content of the meeting since informal science is so fun, and Makers seem like cool people- but for now, networking.
Two days before the conference, a list of attendees was mailed out. My former grad student self would have been too harried to open this file, but as a job hunter, I've got nothing but time. So I flipped through and Googled just about every single person in attendance. I didn't get too creepy deep on the info gathering (in Never Eat Alone, Ferrazzi recommends trying to figure out what hobbies potential contacts might have), I just wanted to know their job function, because I was trying to get a sense of the hierarchy of the meeting. Turns out, there were have a dozen folks from Major Funding Agencies, so I made a note and shared this with my colleagues. I also found some people who had overlapping functions to the program we were presenting, as well as people in my geographical area. Basically, I wanted to have some clue about the type of people who would be there, and to be prepared to recognize when I was speaking to someone who might be a good contact.
We were at this meeting to present a workshop, which was a lot of work to put together, frankly, so we really wanted to share our work with people who could help us in the future. We had post-card sized info sheets about the program (the Click! Spy School through the Girls Math Science Program at the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh) which my colleagues were using like business cards. This conference was really great, being in workshops with people was very disarming, and it was a diverse group without a previously established hierarchy (unlike, say, conferences on virology). This made it very easy for us to walk up to the woman with deep pockets from Time Warner Cable, interrupt her email and invite her to our workshop. This turned into a friendly conversation about how Time Warner Cable got into the informal science arena (they started the Connect a Million Minds project, to connect parents and teachers to informal science resources). Honestly, I was shocked that this worked- she came to our workshop, and loved it.
I also approached several other people I didn't think I would have the guts to- like the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He was totally cool. The two things that worked really well for me here were 1) knowing who I was talking to, and 2) Having something to say to them. Part one doesn't take much mastery, just prime yourself to recognize the types of people you'd like to meet. Part two is a little harder, and something I will keep working on, having a clear, succinct message that is sincere and interesting to the person you want to connect with. Not to ask for a favor, but to share relevant information.
I was not so strong on the second part- sure, talking about our workshop was a good fall back, but I really wanted to say "even though I am presenting this workshop for Pittsburgh, I am a volunteer there, and btw, I live in Seattle where I am looking for a job." This is a more complex message then I felt comfortable conveying. But I did make good contacts with an editor at a major publishing house (who might be able to connect me with more freelancing?), and a researcher at the UW.
Oh, but this brings me to the third thing that I had never tried tactically before- being emotionally honest. Usually, in this type of setting, I would have on my grown-up face, and speak in that mellow, 'professional' tone of voice like I am channeling and NPR jazz radio host. But, I want to be remembered, and I want to be remembered well- and I was having a crazy good time. So, yeah, I blathered a little about how excited I was about our workshop, and I bragged on some of my favorite exhibits in the hall of science and I said exactly how much I appreciated talking with these people (in one case, that came out "You are my hero!"), and every single one of the follow up emails I sent has been returned. Awesome!