On May 19, myself along with about a dozen or so interns were invited to learn all about networking from Air Miles’ Chief Impact Officer Andrew Souvaliotis.

Andrew is a part-time instructor who teaches on this very subject. He brought up the idea of holding this session for Centennial College Corporate Communications students, and my classmate and LoyaltyOne intern Kyla Drewette graciously organized everything.Elevator pitch

As we sat in a seventh floor meeting room of the downtown Toronto office building, Andrew made an interesting point right from the start. When networking, for example at a CPRS or IABC event, and you’re in a conversation where someone is getting to know you, avoid reverting to talking about school or your current job (unless of course they specifically ask you). Andrew says it’s best to bring up a simple “elevator pitch” story about yourself that’s quirky and memorable.

“It has to be about you, but you have to link it to your field,” he says. “Without the story you shouldn’t even begin to network.”

As he spoke I got to thinking about how many times some people must be approached by students or people looking for work. It would be refreshing to hear someone not so blatantly asking for a job, and memorable because they might not have been expecting it.

The crux of Andrew’s presentation had to do with information interviews. Before moving on, the people you head out to interview, should be broken down into three categories:

Low Risk Network

This includes family members, friends, classmates. These are people who you’re very familiar with and when you network with them, they’ll give you a lot of leeway if you screw up.

Medium Risk Network

This would be someone you’re familiar with, but who’s connected enough (ex. they run an agency) you don’t want to screw up too much and they may not give you too many chances.

High Risk Network

With these people you get one chance. They’re probably very busy and you’re only connection is through an introduction.

In the early stages of networking, Andrew recommends conducting information interviews with the ‘Low Risk’ group to help build up your confidence and allow you to work out any kinks you may have in your quirky intro story. After time, you can move up and when you reach someone from the ‘High Risk’ category, you should be confident enough in your approach.

It’s important to not go into these interviews saying you’re looking for a job, even if you are. Simply state you’re preparing to start your search and you’re currently just scoping out the job scene looking for a few pointers. This approach means you come off as non-threatening, which means the other person won’t be defensive and in ‘interview mode’.

Andrew says these interviews can also help you spread your network. All it takes is asking the person to give you three contacts they think would be willing to spare 20 minutes to share a bit of info. If those added contacts each give you three more, you’d have 12 in total, and your network keeps growing…

Overall I’d say it was a fairly informative session. It helped further understand the art of networking and having plenty of perspectives is always a bonus.

What are some interesting tips you’ve learned about networking? How about some of the do’s and don’ts for young practicioners like myself?