Smart Tribe Smart Introductions. Conntecting Academia and Industry

If I had one hour with John Chambers: a few tips on successful networking conversations

At Smart Tribe, we make introductions between academics and industry professionals. Through our networking platform, people find jobs and new team members, discover subject-matter experts, and partner to commercialise tech. Others simply learn from each other about science and technology or life in industry compared to academia. Still others partner in collaboration to obtain grants, create startups and find other ways industry and academia can collaborate to benefit one another.

Each month, our AI matching and recommendation technology suggests who should be speaking to one another. We double-check to ensure that our AI is as smart as us, correct some suggestions if they don’t look right, and then send thousands of introductions around the world. That’s when the magic happens: powerful connections between individuals change lives.

We would like to share some tips derived from hundreds of conversations our Smart Tribe community has kindly shared with us. We want to help you make the best of the unique opportunity to be introduced to someone who is ready to help and could make a difference in your life.

Do not panic when you see your introduction

If I were to receive an email with an invitation to speak to John Chambers, I would panic. John Chambers is the man I have been looking up to my entire career: the ex-CEO of Cisco who elevated the company from $70 million to $40 billion in annual revenue and made 10,000 of its employees millionaires. He is an inspirational leader with integrity and talent in spades – the kind of person I always want to be.

There are many incredible industry VPs already collaborating with Smart Tribe and kindly giving their time to help academics through the transition to industry. Heads of innovation, R&Ds, regional managers of some of the top companies in the world, partners in the biggest management consulting firms, CEOs and founders of great startups.

So if you are just about to obtain a PhD in oncology and you get to speak to the global head of Oncology of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world (real example), do take it seriously, but try not to panic. Start with what you do best: do your research on the person and prepare yourself well for that important meeting.  

Get to know the other person before the first conversation 

Learn as much as you can about the person with whom you are about to speak. Start by reading their LinkedIn profile – this is the least you can do to get to know another professional. It’s probably a good idea to update your own profile since the other person will likely do the same.

Find out what posts they like and what they comment on and care about – this can be a good source of ideas for questions to ask. Have they produced any YouTube presentations you could listen to or articles you could read that might help you to better understand that person, their interests and their way of thinking?

Woohoo! We’re both dyslexics!

When I learnt that John Chambers is dyslexic like me, I immediately felt like I already knew him. Finding something in common creates a bond between people and makes them feel less like strangers. Suddenly the other person is part of your environment because you have something in common, and they will certainly be more friendly if you mention that commonality during the first conversation. It could be anything: common interests, practicing the same sport, graduating from the same school, and more.

Prepare a list of questions as a guide and backup

You do not want the conversation to sound scripted, but you do need some idea of what you are going to talk about and what you want to achieve through the conversation.

Once you learn about the person to whom you will be speaking, it will be easier to ask the right questions – that is, questions they will be able to answer that are relevant to their position and industry.

For example, you may not ask HR about supply chain, but they probably have opinions on company culture. Some questions might arise naturally in the course of the conversation, but it is helpful to have a list of questions as a guide and backup to ensure that you make the most of that one hour.

Make the first move

Once you get an email with an introduction, do not wait for the other person to respond first. Make the first move, suggest a time for the meeting and say how much you are looking forward to speaking with them.

We try to be mindful of time differences across regions when making introductions, but check their location again and try to suggest a convenient time that works for both of you.

Be on time and find a quiet place to have the conversation

Make absolutely sure that you show up on time for the call. If you must reschedule, do it in advance – not last minute. It is a good idea to dial in a couple of minutes before the call starts to ensure your connection is stable; this can save you the trouble of running around in panic during the call to look for one more bar on your WiFi.

Also, try to find a private place – it’s best to have the conversation without screaming kids or a busy station announcement in the background.

Start the conversation with an ice breaker

In England, we always start a conversation by talking about the weather. It is a great ice breaker for any conversation, both because it is neutral and because the weather is often so bad in this country that we join as a nation to complain about it religiously.

It is good to start a conversation with a couple of minutes of polite chat about something neutral, like the weather or the latest on the lockdown in the other person’s country. Ask where they are based, and if you have been there before, make a nice comment about that city. 

Make a short and relevant introduction of yourself

Please, do not take up the first 30 minutes of the conversation with your life story. Keep it professional without adding personal anecdotes. If you can shrink your introduction to five minutes, all the better. If the other person does not share a background with you (e.g. you are a physicist and the other person is a neurologist), try to avoid using technical jargon.

Make your introduction relevant to the other person; give them an idea of what they could talk to you about, and use the introduction to steer the topic of the conversation. For example, with a venture capital investor, mention that you have authored several new IPs/techs and discuss their potential commercialisation and scalability. While speaking to an R&D manager, focus your introduction on your experience with projects relevant to technologies they are familiar with.

In essence, make your introduction short, focused and indicative of what you want to talk about during the rest of the conversation.

Always be polite and professional

Needless to say, always remain professional, even if the conversation does not go as well as you had wished. Your conversation partner may need to cut the meeting short, or they might be distracted while speaking to you. The meeting may not turn out to be as interesting and relevant to you as you had hoped – it may even be boring. If that happens, keep it to yourself. No matter what, be polite and professional. The only exception is in the event that the other person makes inappropriate or offensive comments. In that case, you can cut it short and suggest that the conversation end. Also, please let the Smart Tribe team be aware of that situation.

Listen and ask relevant questions

Interrupting is one of the most annoying habits. Please constrain yourself from sharing your feedback until the other person finishes.

Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and wait for the right moment to interject. Sometimes you learn more by simply listening to the other person, and the conversation is far more interesting if you have follow up questions.

Do not ask for a job!

Smart Tribe is a professional network, not a recruitment agency. We are a technology company using AI matching and recommendation technologies to make the best possible introductions between people from academia and industry.

The reason to meet people from different environments is to network. One of the consequences of this networking may well be finding a new job, but our introductions are not invitations for job interviews.

Unless the person to whom you are speaking directly mentions an open position or opportunity, please do not make the conversation about job hunting. You can mention your desire to find a new job, but your questions should be about the working environment in that company – its culture, its people, the projects they work on, their challenges and career paths, and other similar topics. 

Ask if they know anyone else from their network to whom you could be introduced 

If the conversation went well and the person you met is kind and helpful, you can ask if they know anyone else in their network to whom you could potentially speak.

You will be surprised how helpful people are if you only ask. In this way, you can expand your network to include multiple people through just one conversation. Remember: personal recommendations through colleagues or bosses are even more powerful than super-smart AI matching technology.

Suggest following up first, and do not forget to say ‘Thank you!’ 

If you want to stay in touch with the person with whom you just had an amazing conversation, you should suggest following up with them from time to time.

Alternatively, follow up by completing a task you have been asked to perform, such as sending your CV or pitch deck or a brief of your research.

Be the proactive one. That way, you ensure that it will happen. People often make promises they later forget – even with the best intentions, things slip through our busy days. So, to ensure that the follow-up will happen, you need to take the initiative. Don’t forget to send a ‘Thank You’ email to your conversation partner for taking the time to speak with you!

Enjoy it 

Great things can come from smart introductions. We network throughout our lives to make friends, life partners, new colleagues and business partners.

A Smart Tribe smart introduction is not a formal interview, so make the best of it, and try to enjoy it too.

That said, if I ever get my dream introduction to John Chambers, I’ll be very nervous, but it will certainly be the experience of a lifetime!



2 thoughts on “If I had one hour with John Chambers: a few tips on successful networking conversations”

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    This post was very nicely written :), and it also contains a lot of useful extra facts. I enjoyed your professional way of writing this post. Thanks, you have made it very easy for me to understand.

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