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To get ahead in business, why connections matter

February 3, 2015, 5:09 PM UTC
Courtesy of Christine Aylward

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “To get ahead in business, is it better to have skills or connections?” is written by Christine M. Aylward, Managing Director of Foresite Capital Management.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different industries – from big healthcare companies, to start-ups and the entertainment industry. As I moved through each industry I naturally established unique networks that have helped me throughout my career. Here are a few of my best tips for how to network effectively:

Make yourself uncomfortable
I can’t stress this enough. If there is a conference or networking event that is an area of interest to you – go! Don’t worry about going alone. Show up, introduce yourself and be okay with being uncomfortable. You have to put your shyness aside and be open to meeting new people.

A perfect example of this is the first time I attended a TED conference — I was nervous to be going alone and intimidated to be in the same room with so many other successful people. While I was at the airport waiting for a taxi to the hotel, a man offered to share a taxi — Steven Levy to be exact, one of the top technology journalists, working for Wired at the time. He was so kind and welcoming I immediately felt a sense of relief. I had numerous experiences similar to my one with Steven and left the conference with many new and lasting friendships. This experience gave me the confidence I needed to continue branching out even further.

Remember details
It’s important to pay attention when talking to other people and listen to their interests outside of business. This means being sincere – both in who you are and in your desire to get to know others. For example, let’s say you meet someone who works in biotech, but through conversation you also learn they enjoy independent films or are committed to human rights. Remembering these personal details will provide a unique touch point for you to follow-up with and stay connected on something besides business.

It’s not about you
I help connect people all the time without it having anything to do with my business or personal needs. If you are genuinely interested in networking you should want to help people. Don’t always focus on how it will benefit you. When you are able to successfully connect others, you end up being the one who stands out as someone who makes great introductions — and that’s something people will definitely remember.

Be the glue
My first job after college was at Hoffman La Roche where I worked in several different departments. Eventually, many of us left and pursued other opportunities. However, I moved to California unlike most of my former colleagues who remained on the east coast. So when I’m in New York, I try my best to gather a group of us together for dinner. I eventually found out that my former colleagues didn’t even get together except when I came to town and arranged these dinners. Make it a point to be the “glue” and help keep people connected.