As an MBA student in Hong Kong I knew what I wanted to do after my course and I had my target 'dream' company in mind: a development finance institution.
But before finishing my MBA I wanted to engage with someone senior in that organisation in order to build a professional relationship.
Meeting a senior manager, let alone engaging with them, is easier said than done as a student, however. This is how I went about it:
Identifying the opportunity
I had been reading up about the institution over a couple of months and gathering related news. Then one day I got a chance to volunteer at a private equity forum in Hong Kong and I looked up all the panelists who were to speak at the event. The East Asia head of the private equity arm of my dream employer was on one of the panels. I decided that I had to find a way to talk to him at this event.
The preparation process
While research is essential to successful networking I would recommend targeted research. This was my strategy:
- I researched the specific department he was in charge of.
- I researched him and found articles and quotes by him online. I also found out the roles, departments and regions he represented within my dream organisation.
- Having read all this information, I formulated questions to ask him that could kick start a conversation. A helpful tip I received at this stage was not to push my CV or intention to look for a job, but rather to engage him in the area that he knows best. You have to demonstrate your interest in and knowledge of that person’s field to gain their interest in you.
- I practiced my career 'story' and how I would present myself, in case that came up in conversation.
While the panel was ongoing, I listened intently. At first I thought I would form a new question related to new issues that were cropping up during the panel discussion. However, I soon realised that the panel was focusing on unfamiliar issues and I didn’t want to be caught out in a situation I couldn’t handle.
So I decided to go with the questions I had prepared and ask them after the panel. Soon after it was over many people flocked to my ‘target’, but I did get the chance to ask two questions. This is how the conversation went:
Me: Your outlook on Asia for 2015 was overweight. What would be your outlook for 2016?
Him: (Intrigued) Where did you read this?
Me: In one of your interviews.
Me: On the Seeking Alpha website.
Him: Now I remember. Well, we are overweight on Asia for 2016, with a particular focus on China.
Me: Thank you. What would you say is your investment strategy for Myanmar?
Him: Myanmar? Interesting. As you would know, since you have been following the news it seems, we have made two investments there and we are waiting for other players to make a move.
Me: Yes, I do know about those investments. Thank you for sharing your insights with me.
This was a 30-second window but it was all I had before other people started introducing themselves and I couldn’t engage him further. But I felt I had made the right impression.
Later, at the event’s cocktail reception, I made sure I met him again. I introduced myself and he was keen to know about me. This was encouraging and I asked if I could meet him in Singapore where his head office is. My MBA class were going for a career trek there the following week, so I connected the dots. He was very welcoming and agreed to see me. This was a big moment.
I did meet him in Singapore – at my dream organisation’s HQ. He met me for 40 minutes and shared his experiences with the firm – both pros and cons – and offered me advice on my career. It was a helpful interaction. I asked for an internship opportunity but he claimed that recruitment wasn’t his domain. Nevertheless, I was not discouraged.
Even though my targeted networking hasn’t immediately led to an opportunity for me, the experience in itself has been a big confidence booster which I’m sure will help me get a job at that firm or elsewhere. I am more confident of my story, my research methods and my ability to ask such a senior executive for a one-on-one meeting.
The fact that I can now successfully engage in meaningful conversation with senior executives is the key takeaway for me. Networking success shouldn’t be measured by how many people you spoke to at an event, but what you spoke to them about and whether they actually remember you.
Kritika Kumar is a 2016 MBA candidate at The University of Hong Kong.
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