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Extended Interview: Silicon Valley’s best networker teaches you the secrets to making connections

charisma

It might be surprising that I know Adam Rifkin. What’s not surprising is that Adam Rifkin knows me — because Adam knows everybody.

In 2011 Fortune Magazine declared him the best networker in Silicon Valley.

Adam is also one of the nicest, most sincere people I’ve ever met. He’s currently CEO of his latest startup, Pandawhale.

I talked to Adam about his thoughts on networking and how to get better at it.

——————-

Eric:

Sometimes networking gets a bad rap. How can you network and not feel/come off as salesy?

Adam:

It is better to give than to receive. Look for opportunities to do something for the other person, such as sharing knowledge or offering an introduction to someone that person might not know but would be interested in knowing. Do not be transactional about networking. Do not offer something because you want something in return. Instead, show a genuine interest in something you and the other person have in common.

In general, ask more questions than you make statements. Doing so is particularly useful when meeting someone for the first time. Bill Nye says everyone you meet knows something you don’t. Networking is a great opportunity to learn from others!

Eric:

What do most people do wrong when it comes to networking?

Adam:

Most people try to escalate a relationship too quickly.Trust is built slowly, over time.

Good relationships are built little by little, and there are no shortcuts, so do not try to push the relationship to progress faster than is natural.

Because relationships are progressions, follow-ups are important. It’s okay to follow up by email, but keep in mind that the other person’s inbox is probably swamped, so s/he may not respond even if s/he reads the email. It’s okay to email again even if you have not heard back. Over time, every interaction contributes to a deeper relationship, even when there isn’t always a response.

Eric:

How do you manage such a large network and not lose touch?

Adam:

You’re not going to be able to check in with everyone all the time. So prioritize the people you’d most like to be influenced by, and look for special opportunities to reconnect with them regularly — not just birthdays and anniversaries but whenever you learn a piece of information, find a job listing, or make a connection that could be relevant to them.

Writing to offer a piece of information or a connection is a great way to demonstrate that you’re looking out for the other person. Humans have a tendency to want to reciprocate, so the more you show you’re looking out for someone, the more likely that person will begin to keep you in mind as well.

Eric:

Any tips for people who are introverted or shy?

Adam:

I am naturally introverted and shy, so I can relate! The key is to think of networking as a skill that anyone can learn; it just requires practice:

1. Do something every single day. Make it a habit. The more of it you do, the better you can get at it. Every day is an opportunity to get better, but do not try to do too much at once. Take the longview, and connect with at least one person professionally every day. Could be following up with someone you already know; could be asking for an introduction from a mutual connection.

2. Once in a while, think of two people who should know each other but don’t, and introduce them. Follow through with them later to learn from whether that introduction was worthwhile, so you can get better at making introductions. Practice!

3. Imagine you got laid off today. Who are the 5-10 people you’d write to for advice? Make sure to invest in those relationships regularly, not just when you have an urgent need.

4. Look at the 5-10 people you’ve spent the most time with in the last 3 months. Are you happy with the way they’re influencing you? If so, find another person who belongs in that group and invest in that relationship. (If not, change the way you’re spending your time! How you spend your time determines so much in your life.)

Eric:

What’s a good tip people can start using immediately?

Adam:

Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media.

But yeah, do something that’s not for yourself, every single day. Expect nothing in return. Over time, these random acts of kindness will really add up.

——————-

Part 2

Eric:

Any books you recommend on networking?

Adam:

Actually, these days articles are better than books. The networking advice on Bakadesuyo.com is consistently the best I’ve seen on the Internet.

In addition to that I recommend these two articles:

1. Reid Hoffman, The Real Way to Build a Social Network.

2. Mark Suster, Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings.

Eric:

How do you balance face to face vs phone vs email, etc?

Adam:

The key is to keep each communication appropriate to the medium. Face to face is the fastest way to deepen the relationship, because you can respond to someone’s body language. Because it requires the most time commitment, use this option only when it’s absolutely necessary for both of you.

Voice based media (phone, Skype) are the middle ground, but just like face-to-face, they are synchonous, and therefore have higher coordination costs, so again, use only when necessary for both of you.

It’s best to stick to short, asynchronous forms of communication that do not require a reply-back: email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, etc. In those cases if you do need a reply, make sure the response can be short and ask only for the answer to a single question per communication. If you don’t hear back and you do need a reply, it’s okay to send the communication again until you do hear back. Escalate to phone if a reply is urgent.

When networking, most communications should be of the form “I found this job listing I thought you might be interested in”, or “I met this person who could be helpful to you”, or “I saw this article and am forwarding it to you in case you hadn’t seen it”. All of those are great small ways to deepen the relationship a little at a time.

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