Transitions Part Six: The Golden Contact

This is the sixth installment of our "Transitions" series, in which Stijn Oomes describes how various events in his life have helped him make decisions that have shaped his future career. In the preceding article Stijn explored imaginary careers and reflected on serendipity. Today, he shares with us his networking strategies.

My best Christmas present this year was a job offer. After more than 5 months of frantic networking, I could breathe a sigh of relief and congratulate myself. I had found my "Golden Contact," the key person who gives you all the right information at just the right moment.

I do not want to give you the impression that finding someone who deserves this title was easy. It took a lot of networking. A depressing number of threads in my network turned out to lead nowhere, even though they looked very promising at first.

I estimate the number of threads in my network to be close to 50, but I will not bore you with parallel universes. Instead, I'll tell you only about the threads that resulted in my present job. For that, I have to go back to last summer. I was having dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant in Amsterdam with my friend, A, who is the CEO of an Internet company and has been giving me invaluable advice since I started my own company in 2001. He was very understanding about my decision to temporarily halt my efforts to build up my own business. Soon, however, the conversation moved on to other topics, and we started exchanging the latest gossip about the people in our graduate school. We told each other how great it would be to meet them again and catch up.

A is not one who easily lets go of a good idea, and he sent me an e-mail a few days later spelling out the plan for a reunion with our old friends. We started compiling an e-mail list and soon found a location in Belgium where two of our former colleagues had ended up living together. While A directed the organization of this event (remember, he is a CEO!), I put a Web site together, and enthusiastic responses started to trickle in.

One of the responses came from J, who had graduated some years before me. He apologized for not being able to come to Belgium--his wife was expecting. He also told me that he had looked at my own Web site and was curious about my activities. It turned out that we had registered for the same conference a couple of weeks later and there we had a long chat, catching up after more than 4 years. After the event, J sent me an e-mail saying he was really interested in my business and would like to talk more.

At that point, I was really desperate for a job, but I thanked J for his positive feedback and said we should get together socially.

A day later, I got an e-mail from N, whom I had met at the conference that I reported on for Next Wave. He works for an organization that tries to attract businesses to the Eindhoven region. He expressed his regrets that I had put my plans on the back burner but offered me his help anyway. This started me thinking ... within 24 hours, two guys with a lot of business experience had offered me their help. All my dreams and hopes to establish my own company popped back into my mind. I also had the feeling that J and N would be on the same wavelength regarding my plans. I decided to set up a meeting where the three of us could discuss my company's chances for survival.

So we had dinner together, and I have to say it was as enjoyable as it was sobering. J and N got along well and totally agreed that my business plans were in a very early phase and still needed a lot of thought and effort. They advised me to keep looking for a job, so that I would be financially secure again. They told me that I should keep at it and continue to talk to as many people as I could, but without the obvious panic in my eyes!

Both J and N volunteered to open their networks for me. N introduced me to a number of professors and CEOs in the Eindhoven region. What I had not realized before is that half of the R&D money in the Netherlands is spent there. In the next few weeks, I made five trips to Eindhoven, and every person I spoke with gave me the name of someone in his or her network that I should contact. Eventually, this iterative process turned up one very promising lead.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. ...

In the meantime, I met J again at another conference. While we were chatting during a break, he introduced me to a colleague, the director of a lab in Delft. It was a brilliant example of how to help someone who is looking for a job. J efficiently steered the conversation in exactly the right direction. When J introduced me, he mentioned my time at MIT, and it turned out that his colleague had spent a few months there himself. We talked about this for some time and discovered some mutual acquaintances. Then, during a short pause in the conversation, J quickly said "and he is also looking for a job." That piqued the lab director's interest, and he invited me to visit him in Delft to talk more.

I weighed the two promising leads in Eindhoven and Delft, telling both parties that I had another offer and that I would like to decide before Christmas. This speeded matters up considerably. I was invited for an official round of interviews at the headquarters of the company with the lab in Delft. J works for this company and gave me a detailed description of the personalities and peculiarities of all the interviewers. I sailed through the day, and a few days later they made me a formal offer!

I have just finished the first week of my new job, and it has been very energizing. It is such a relief to be on a payroll again and not constantly having to worry about the next source of income. I am now a researcher in a lab that is a collaborative venture involving a number of companies and universities. It is a great place where I can satisfy my diverse interests in science, technology, and business.

In case you were wondering, J was my Golden Contact. He understood exactly what I was looking for, made the proper introductions, and gave me some invaluable inside information that eventually resulted in my present job. Anyone in your network can turn out to be like J, but of course the title can only be awarded in retrospect, after a (long) period of sustained networking!

Watch for further installments of "transitions" as Stijn's story unfolds. ...

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