[Lessons Learned] Networking Strategically with Hobbies

Random Observation/Comment #493: It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. When networking, make sure you’re clear to the value you can add professionally, and people will keep you in mind with your goals.

social nerd

The idea of a work-life balance always made me think that you need to trade off one for the other. This didn’t make sense to me so I started to combine work and life together into a more dynamic and enjoyable environment.

I try my best not to live a dual life. If I’m not getting paid for doing my hobby on the side anyway, I may as well find some other benefit, right? For those who are just beginning their early career in any industry, I highly suggest investing in horizontal groups that provide you with exposure across the board to people who can give you some insight on the winding roads of careers. Here are some examples of some hobbies that I’ve used strategically to help me in my early career:

  • Event photography. I’ve attended over 200 events in the past 5 years where I: leisurely took photos (~200, submitting maybe 35), drank some free happy hour wine/cocktails/beer, spoke with some regulars, and met a new person I’ve never seen before. This has not only helped me become a better photographer, but also a better networker (and social alcoholic). I’m always surprised at how many people ask me how I became the regular photographer, and I literally just said “I like photography, so I volunteered.”  It’s been that way ever since. The perks of non-stressful volunteer event photography is outstanding and it’s always easy to start a conversation or get away from one when you have a camera. Since then, I’ve built a community around photography and urged hobby photographers to teach their skills and share their business acumen.
  • Toastmasters/Public Speaking. I’ve written about Toastmasters many times and emphasized its value when you spend the time taking communication as a skill that can be improved.  Even if I didn’t gain horizontal access to managers at all levels and areas, I would still be involved with Toastmasters in order to keep those butterflies and sweaty palms away for speeches.
  • Prep for Prep Mock Interviews. Whenever I get the opportunity, I participate in interviews. This is not only to practice being on the other side, but also to truly give the valuable advice I never got when I was in high school. Of course, back then it wasn’t as easy to look up all these tips and tricks for acing interviews, but I still feel practicing making first impressions is a key to success.
  • Mentorship programs. Whether it’s in Photography, public speaking, career programs, or internship programs, I firmly believe in being a mentor and a mentee. You’d be surprised at how many senior/tenure managers love passing on advice. I’ve heard it all, but I think everyone comes to the main conclusions from different stories. I’ve found that my advice as a mentor also comes from a set of different ideas.
  • Philanthropy. Volunteering is not only giving back to the community, but a fairly easy way to get exposure to senior management. At the very least, they will recognize you as someone that helps the community. In these cases, I always have questions in my back pocket to start a random conversation. Keep it light and practice your pitch.
  • Human Capital programs. Every firm has a set of interest groups and diversity/inclusion programs to build the overall connectivity within the company.  Be a part of it. You’ll meet a lot of passionate people who love organizing events and may even network as much as you do. Sharing networks is a big part of growing presence.
  • Meet-up groups. There are meet-ups about every interest. I personally loved going to the New York Asian Professionals Meet-up (a little bit for the female ratio) or nextNY (much more for the geek dosage).  Befriend the organizers and help them wherever possible. These socialites are well connected and extremely friendly.
  • Organizing Events. If you don’t see an event you can participate it, then organize your own. We started a TEDxCreditSuisse and built our own volleyball teams with interest of a few peers. Some of them catch on better than others, but it’s all about being proactive with creating an environment to support common interests.
  • Friends of Friends. Yes, you love the routine of hanging out with your best friends all the time, but unless your friends organize events and keeps you connected, you’re pretty much doing the same things over and over again. This also means that your sphere of friends shrinks because it’s difficult to maintain even 20 people in a close community.  I try to keep a healthy level of friend exploration with a healthy level of reaching out to old connections.

Networking sometimes gets a bad connotation for climbing up the corporate ladder or using other people’s connections, but I rather see it as building a community. Many people use religion as a medium for getting a variety of professions involved, but you can just as easily create your own spheres.  The big kicker, which I have yet to figure out, is how to combine all these communities to build a web of friendship. Together, we can change the world.

~See Lemons Network Efficiently