How to build your business network effectively and efficiently; professional speed dating without tears

Actuary out of the Box
8 min readMar 18, 2024

An edited version of this article, How to Network as an Actuary — The Actuary Magazine, was first published in The Actuary, March 2024, Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, IL. Copyright © 2024 by the Society of Actuaries. Reprinted with permission.”

The inspiration of this article is based on an anecdote about a mail boy’s interactions with John F Kennedy and Richard M Nixon before they gained the keys of the office of POTUS. The mail boy recalled that Kennedy never gave him the time of day and basically treated him as if he was invisible. Whereas Nixon was super friendly and almost always engaged in banter with him. It might be that Kennedy was convinced that he was charismatic, charming, wealthy, good-looking with a bevy of Hollywood actresses at his beck and call; Kennedy thus had zero need to go out of his way to make new acquaintances. Nixon on the other hand had few of these attributes and had to work the room to develop relationships one handshake at a time. Hence the possible reason why the mail boy was treated so differently by these 2 future presidents. It’s possible that the vast majority of us fall into the Nixon category and thus we might all need some help to sharpen our networking skills.

This article will strive to share some overlooked ideas that I have found to be helpful in relation to networking along my professional career.

Recommended reading

· How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

· Stop Peeing On Your Shoes: Avoiding the 7 Mistakes That Screw Up Your Job Search by Julie Bauke.

The first is a timeless classic and does not fail to deliver. The second is not well known but it really was a gamechanger for me. Julie succintly defines networking as a career-long activity that focuses on building mutually beneficial relationships that support your goals; which is the essence of her book’s sage advice.

Who’s in your corner?

The book ‘Stop Peeing on your shoes’ asks us to imagine the scenario where you have just lost your job, you are feeling low and are now looking to reach out to your network to gain a new appointment. The author suggests that should be realistic regarding how much your contacts are willing to help you.

You begin your search with a list of great networking contacts — people who you are convinced truly love you, people you are certain will move heaven and earth to help you. Sadly be prepared for disappointment. Some of the people you believe are your best contacts will disappoint you, but some people you don’t know well, will surprise you.

We need to broaden our expectation of what we should expect from our ‘best contacts’. Some will provide the great moral support and encouragement. Others will make calls on our behalf. Still others will help us think creatively about ourselves and our searches, or give tough feedback when it’s needed. Let’s classify this group as your A team; your cheerleaders. If you have really been very honest with your assessment of your network, you will have less A team cheerleaders than you have fingers.

Unfortunately, some of your contacts will not be willing or able to help you in the way you’d like them to. On the other side of the coin, you will meet new people during your search. You will reconnect with people you don’t know well, or haven’t spoken to in a long time. Some of them will go out of their way to help you, to refer you to others, and to support you.

Of course your A team classification might still not be 100% accurate but now you have a framework to start working with. Here are some quick ‘overlooked’ tips to help you along your way to being a networking superstar.

Juggling your agenda

Let’s circle back to the classification of your A team that was defined above. A golden rule is that if anyone in team A reaches out to you for a meeting/dinner/lunch/drink/catch up etc…, you MUST cancel whatever you are doing to meet up. The only exceptions to decline an invite from an A team cheerleader is if you are running a marathon, there is no babysitter available within 50 miles, hospitalized, contagious with a non treatable communicable disease or a very close family member is hosting a milestone event. This is not an all inclusive list of reasons to decline a meeting with your A team cheerleader, but hopefully you get the picture regarding the importance of not blowing off your cheerleaders.

You must nurture your A Team. If you are only going to reach out to your cheerleader once a year, he/she is probably going to be less inclined to help you.

The rest of the article applies to anyone who has made your networking list… i.e. this is not limited to your A Team.

Always attend every cocktail party that you are invited to

Professional cocktail parties are the precursors of speed dating. It’s the very best way to network in my humble opinion. Cocktail parties are much better (and cheaper) than business meetings, breakfasts or lunches. With the former, you must spend at least 1 hour at the meeting. However for cocktail parties you can spend as little as 30 mins at each event; of course if you want to spend more time then that’s totally fine. Once your are OK with only spending 30 minutes at an event, you will find that you can attend a lot more events than you usually thought you would have time for.

In addition to attending every event, to really maximize your time at such event, you should aim to be one of the first guests to arrive. The upside here is that the absence of other attendees exponentially increases your chances of speaking to the hosts of the party. Once the room is full, the hosts will be flitting from guest to guest with limited attention span.

What to expect of your professional networking interactions

As a reinsurance actuary I always try to remember why I’m meeting a client or potential client. 1) Is this an actual or potential source of profitable business 2) as a reinsurer, data is key to pricing risk, so having a contact that asks me to quote for their portfolio and consistently provides detailed data that will help me calibrate my risk model is very valuable; even though I might not win the business 3) reliable behind the scenes information about trends and new developments, regulations in our sector . Once again this is not an all inclusive list… but the point is that every business meeting should have a purpose.

The diversity of diversity

I was fortunate to have been invited to attend a course run that uses Carl Jung`s typology as a framework to evaluate personality profiles. The course was based on Insights Discovery, presented by a company called Insights and whilst the main two models of human behavior are;

1) some people are more Extroverted than Introverted 2) Some people are more task-oriented while others are people oriented; the exercise concludes using four primary colors to classify behavior. The suggestion of the classification is as follows..

· Fiery Red: People with a preference for Fiery Red energy are Extraverted and have high energy. They are action oriented and always in motion. They will approach others in a direct, authoritative manner, radiating a desire for power and control.

· Sunshine Yellow. People with a preference for Sunshine Yellow energy are strongly Extraverted, radiant, and friendly. They are usually positive and concerned with good human relations. They will approach others in a persuasive, democratic manner, radiating a desire for sociability.

· Cool Blue: People with a preference for Cool Blue energy are Introverted and have a desire to know and understand the world around them. They prefer written communication in order to maintain clarity and precision, radiating a desire for analysis.

· Earth Green: People with a preference for Earth Green energy are also Introverted and focus on values and depth in relationships. They want others to be able to rely on them. They prefer democratic relations that value the individual and are personal in style, radiating a desire for understanding.

The use of four primary colors is extremely intuitive, memorable and a lot simpler than many other tests which I have undertaken. It reminded me of the colors on recycling bins which nudge you to effect a change of habit (recycling) using Behavioral Economics.

Once you have figured out their dominant colors, the following recommendations are suggested to improve your one-on-one interaction with your networking colleagues based on these behavioral temperaments.

· Fiery Red Colleagues: Focus your attention on the task at hand and never, ever be late when meeting him/her. Their motto is `be brief, be bright, be gone`

· Sunshine Yellow: Smile. Ask open questions. Stay open to new ideas; Their motto is `involve me`

· Cool Blue: Present your ideas clearly and with structure: Their motto is `Give me details`

· Earth Green: Practice active listening. Give full attention to their need and concerns. Their motto is `Show me you care`

What’s not ‘high impact’ networking?

Frenetic Social media posts via linkedin, facebook, instagram, twitter, whatsapp groups, tiktok etc… are not ‘high impact’ networking. Face to face ‘high impact’ interactions will always trump superficial virtual banter.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that social media is an excellent resource to receive timely news about your industry, competitors, market trends etc… but if you are interested in reinforcing your brand and developing an A team, definitely not gonna happen!

To build your brand, your time would be much better spent by getting articles published in your industry’s trade publications or lobbying to make presentation at your industry’s conferences. If either of these activities intimidate you, then consider signing up for a business writing course or joining a toastmaster’s club to build your confidence.

Conclusion

In the end networking is not about collecting business cards; it’s about building genuine connections.

If you enjoyed reading, please consider hitting that little green heart. It means the world to the author.

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