Great networkers are made, not born.
48, a Boston business owner and investor, saw himself as an introvert for years, but learned to network after realizing it was essential to his success. He’s now seen by colleagues, business partners and friends as a master.
Raised in India by parents who were college professors, Mr. Aradyha learned to defer to elders and others with authority. He moved to the U.S. to earn a doctoral degree in structural dynamics at North Carolina State University in 2000, and then rose through the ranks as a software engineer at several companies to become vice president of technology at Digitas in Boston in 2006.
The ad agency’s flamboyant culture was a shock. “I was one of those button-down engineers who was quiet and held himself in the background,” Mr. Aradhya says. At his first client pitch meeting, a colleague from the creative department showed up in a pirate shirt. Another wore leather pants.
“They held court with clients, and they were completely respected,” Mr. Aradhya says. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is a new world.’
People trained in technology often have to sharpen their social skills to move into jobs that require selling, communicating or managing others. Mr. Aradhya made the shift by learning to explain technology to non-techies and polishing his image and conversational skills.
He traded his dark suits and button-down shirts for stylish shoes and bright-colored shirts, says
his supervisor at Digitas. Mr. Aradhya also learned to talk about his complex work without making others feel intimidated, says Mr. Wong, now chief consulting officer at HackerAgency, a Seattle marketing company.
Introducing himself to strangers didn’t come naturally when he began attending events. “I had to force myself,” he says. Without a network, he says, “it’s impossible to scale or build anything valuable.”
Mr. Aradhya founded his own consulting firm, Novus Laurus (Latin for “new success”) in 2009, to develop digital marketing strategies for clients, including
He also began investing in consumer tech, food and indie film ventures in 2012.
Mr. Aradhya spends six to eight hours a week going to events and following up with people. He embraced as his networking mantra a formula he’d heard from colleagues in marketing: You must “entertain, enlighten or enrich” people to attract positive attention to a brand, he says. He tries to do the same for people he meets, so they’ll remember him and help when they can.
Mr. Aradyha began window shopping and researching men’s fashions online to figure out how to project a confident, successful image. He swapped his dark suits for jackets of crushed silk or woven with metallic thread, and wears exotic-looking designer shoes by Zota or Fiesso. The look shows he’s not afraid of taking risks, and tends to attract people who are curious and capable, he says. At many events, “I don’t even have to start a conversation,” he says. “People will ask, where did you get those shoes?”
His crushed-silk jacket caught the eye of a fashion-industry speaker at a recent conference and helped Mr. Aradhya shoot to the front of a line waiting to meet the man.
His style makes him a standout at tech gatherings where “the men are in rumpled shorts and man buns and T-shirts, and you’re tempted to ask them, ‘Have you done your laundry in a month?’” says
author of “The Networking Survival Guide.”
“He’s a very memorable figure,” says Lexington, Mass., public-relations executive Bobbie Carlton. She has been sharing contacts with Mr. Aradhya since she met him at an event three years ago. He has become an investor in Innovation Women, a speakers’ bureau she founded to promote diversity among conference speakers.
Mr. Aradhya began studying how people use humor when networking. He noticed that people who interrupted a conversation with a joke were often ignored. Those who found contextual humor in their surroundings and interjected it gracefully into conversations fared better.
He also says something outrageous now and then. The audience was dozing off at a late-afternoon program recently where he was a panelist. He was the last to introduce himself, and he jolted listeners awake by identifying himself as “the king of India” who also happens to run Novus Laurus. “He definitely woke everybody up” and drew a laugh, says Colleen Bradley-MacArthur, a Lexington, Mass., media-relations strategist who was present.
As he enters an event, Mr. Aradhya looks for the power center in the room—a group of people who appear successful and prosperous, or who are deep in thoughtful discussion.
A common networking mistake is to walk up to a group, change the subject and start talking about yourself, Mr. Aradhya says. He has learned to ease in and listen for a while instead, before breaking in and turning the conversation in the direction he wants.
Still, like anyone who networks a lot, he has been shot down sometimes. A bodybuilder at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, he can be intimidating. If he sees a person making eye contact without approaching him, he engages the person with a friendly question.
WORK & FAMILY MAILBOX
Q: I’m an experienced product-management executive in semiconductors looking to change industries, but I’m not even getting interviews. I’ve been told I should leave off my résumé my college-graduation dates and any jobs I held more than 10 years ago, to avoid age bias. Any advice?—B.S.
A: Most hiring managers won’t spend more than 10 seconds scanning your résumé in the first go-round, so highlight experience most relevant to the job, says John Reed, head of technology recruiting at Robert Half, Menlo Park, Calif. If a job you had 15 years ago is relevant, include it, he says. If not, leave it off. If your degree helps prove you’re qualified, feature that. It is fine to omit the graduation date if it is more than 10 years in the past.
You may be getting cut during first-round screenings by human-resources staffers checking boxes for a few basic criteria, says Brian Binke, president of Birmingham Group, a Berkley, Mich., affiliate of the Sanford Rose Associates executive-search network. Consider researching the company, preparing a few succinct points to show why you’re a good fit and calling the hiring manager directly. Then ask politely for a chance to make your case.
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at firstname.lastname@example.org