Networking in Boston may seem daunting, especially for a new arrival. When I moved to Boston, I was transitioning from active duty military service and I had zero time to prepare for my transition from Southern California. I did not know where to begin my professional and social networking.
Eight years later, I have learned through trial and error what worked for me.
Five Sectors to Take Seriously
Embrace these five key sectors in order to maximize your success for networking in the Boston area: Academia, Business, Culture, Government, and Nonprofit Organizations.
Whatever your goals are when networking, these five sectors can add great value to your career. Simply making contacts in these areas is not sufficient; you need to cross-pollinate your network to reap the benefits of all they have to offer, so you can be a valuable node for your colleagues and trusted friends.
Boston is called the ‘Athens of America’ for good reason—the influence of academic institutions is pervasive. Many people in New England earn a degree or two here, yet interacting with your alumni network is only the beginning for engaging with the academic community. Professors are often open to collaborating on new projects, which can lead to real job opportunities. After reading an intriguing news article written by a business professor, I contacted him and wrote business cases part-time, leading to other publishing opportunities.
In the business community it’s all too easy to focus in your vertical. I urge you to build relationships with professionals in an entirely different area from what you are used to: if you are an engineer, join an organization for marketers or lawyers. If you are in finance, attend conferences for the biotechnology industry. If you work at a Fortune 500 company, make an appearance at startup events. You never know when a particular business relationship may provide great value for your career, or what kind of professional you may need to recruit or partner with on a new venture.
The Boston area is rich with cultural diversity. Reaching out to new cultural communities is one of the most enjoyable ways to expand your network. You can learn a great deal about the world when experiencing the food, music, art and traditions of new cultures. Also, being conversant in the markets of faraway countries provides great context in markets closer to home. And when you decide to learn your second, third, or fourth language, keep in mind that multilingual professionals are always in demand in business.
The public sector is constantly innovating in New England, whether at the city or state level. Public servants are frequently open to new ideas, and you may be surprised how receptive public servants are to your communication. There is also strong representation for international governments in the Boston area – I encourage you to explore what the consulates in the Boston area have to offer, as they are eager to work together with Boston-based professionals. The consulates frequently have high-impact events focused on specific industries, allowing you to conduct targeted international business in your own neighborhood.
There is a thriving nonprofit community in the Boston area; helping those in need is always a worthwhile endeavor. It also makes business sense to actively engage with the nonprofit community. The most successful businesspeople in the world are active philanthropists and an ideal place to meet them is at nonprofit organizations; you can always connect on shared values of philanthropic activity. These are the people you want as your mentors, your board members and perhaps as your investors. I volunteered for Big Brothers right when I moved to Boston, and had the opportunity to work with a remarkable family from the Middle East. Personally, it made me feel like I had a home when I was a newcomer to the area. Professionally, my cultural acuity and language skills have led me to consulting deals for new universities being constructed in the Middle East, among other opportunities.
The Boston area is an ideal place to engage in cross-pollination networking. The urban population is concentrated, you can easily transition between sectors in one business day, and collaboration comes naturally to our professional community.
Engage with the communities that make the most sense for your career, but move outside of your comfort zone. Take a risk, embrace serendipity, as you never know what cross-pollinating your social network may lead to: a new sales lead, a best friend, an entirely new career path.
John Henry Silva is Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer of FairSetup, a company that provides impact-based compensation products and services; he is also a proud Connector for Boston World Partnerships.
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