I am a terrible schmoozer. When I saw that there was a career fair during Cyberposium, I knew I had to go. After all, this was MY career fair, not investment bankers or VC guys or gals, this was the career fair where I might actually be considered a desirable candidate. So I threw on slacks, grabbed a serious looking purse, printed my resume and hit Kresge. Within the first two minutes I realized that I did not have a pen. This sent me into a panic. I couldn’t even sign up for a breakfast. I looked around for allies, I saw none. I called in reinforcements, a.k.a. Erin Thomas. She lives in McCullough, plus she’s an athlete, so the sprint over took mere seconds. Ok, I had my pen. So I descended the stairway to the lower level of Kresge. It was basically empty except for the tables with the recruiters. I spoke to one person and I felt like a total idiot. I fled.
Later that day I went to a panel discussion. I knew one of the panelists, or at least I thought I did. We had spoken briefly about a possible internship when I was back in SF. The conversation was casual, yet I felt that I had made an impression. However, I am pretty sure when I reintroduced myself to him, with a little background information, he had no clue who I was. Strike 2. I learned from this one. When I approached he was surrounded by people and about to begin the panel discussion. Too busy, too much pressure I told myself. The guy is getting ready to speak to a packed room, bad timing. It is understandable that he didn’t recall. I guess.
After my failure I decided to seek expert advice. I bumped into Dan Senor, a section mate formerly from the world of politics, as he was casually waiting to speak to some CEO, not an ounce of sweat on his body, not one bit of red flushing his face. What makes it all so easy for this guy? He gave me some helpful advice.
Intro to Senor Schmoozing
When you are wasting someone’s time, you should have a point, and cut right to it. Assume you have their undivided attention for all of 8 seconds. If you want another 8, you’ve got to be quick, or they’ll just move on. After a panel session, these people are absolutely swarmed with students. Think about a good but quick introduction, one other than, “I’m a student at HBS.” It’s redundant, they’ll assume you are a student here. Maybe mention your last job if it is relevant. And then straight to the point, be it a question or a request, and it’s got to be one of the two: “I am interested in interning with blank.com. I know that you are swamped right now, but I was wondering if I could give you a call to chat about it for a few minutes.”
When in Rome, do NOT do as the Romans.
You have to distinguish yourself. First things first: Throw away all your HBS business cards, they look identical to all of the other 250 cards the person will be filing through on the plane home. Hang on to your old business cards, cross out the outdated information and write in your new phone number. Not only will your card stand out, but it will also remind the contact of your background.
Another idea is to clip a pertinent article prior to the meeting and causally offer it, ‘thought you might be interested in this article, which relates to the talk you just gave and oh, why don’t I write my name and number on the top.’
With new found confidence as a graduate of the Intro class, I went straight to the pit after a panel and approached the CEO of a company that I had interviewed with. I had learned my lesson, I went down trying my best to keep my palms dry and my face from turning red. I said, “Hi, I interviewed with your company a few weeks ago and I wanted to introduce myself.” He smiled and looked at me and said, “and you are.. Tim Watson?” It was a little strange because I had swapped passes with Tim. To be honest, it was a great icebreaker. We exchanged ‘I know so-and-sos’ and I asked a question or two. We actually chatted for a little while and by the end I felt comfortable. As long as Tim doesn’t get my job, I think it was successful. I learned a lot from my experiences in the trenches, and although I still dislike the process, I feel better prepared to approach my next schmoozefest.