I usually have one-on-one lunch meetings booked for weeks, if not months, into the future. Most of the people I have lunch with work at the same company as me, but sometimes I invite people from outside the company to meet with me at work. Sometimes I travel to meet people elsewhere.
I don’t just meet for lunch; I also have random one-on-one meetings with people at other times during the day, often for thirty minutes or so. I meet with people from across the company, not just from my group. I also regularly schedule in-person or Skype sessions with friends from around the world.
I’m not doing this because I’m a manager; I’m currently an individual contributor. I’m not doing this to get anything other than to ask questions and listen. I do it because I love people and I want to spend time with them. Being in a company with thousands of employees is a massive opportunity. I get to learn about what others are doing, what their experience of working at the company is like, and how they might be struggling or thriving.
I get to build a network of people who are my friends who I see every day. As I walk around the buildings, I see people and wave to them and say hi. I know who they are, what they’re doing, and what they’re about. I feel at home; I feel comfortable.
Sometimes knowing people is advantageous. Perhaps I need help to solve a cross-departmental problem or to get a personal need met. I often find that I know someone who can help. This is not the purpose of networking but a convenient side-effect.
Since I am very introverted, I can naturally go for very long periods without talking with anyone. Another beneficial side-effect of this networking practice is that I am very comfortable talking with new people about anything. Over the past year of meeting with people socially every day, my social skills seem to have grown enormously.
I have no plans to interview elsewhere, but I imagine that this skill of being able to talk about anything, off-the-cuff, including about widely varied technical topics, might be of great use in interviews.
There are almost no rules about who I decide to invite to lunch. Sometimes it’s people I worked with at my company during my previous tenure, sometimes it’s people who sit physically near me, sometimes it’s people who I have heard good things about. Often when I feel an internal nudge to get to know someone better or to continue the conversation, I reach out to them.
I’m also part of a pairing system in my previous department, and I created a pairing system in my new department. These automatic pairing systems provide even more opportunities to meet people through completely random pairing. I usually don’t have any lunch slots left to meet the people I’m paired with this way, so I meet them at other times.
Some of the people I meet with have become very good friends. Some of them are people who I reached out to because I felt scared of them or intimidated by them, or I assumed that they didn’t like me. One person, who I had assumed didn’t like me, turned out to be one of my most treasured lunch companions. We often have deep philosophical discussions about the nature of reality.
I have also ended up with several informal mentors, people with more, or different, experience. These people seem to enjoy giving me support and guidance. I don’t expect that, but I appreciate it.
I think of networking as a function like eating, sleeping, meditating, exercising, writing, and working. It’s just something that I find myself doing. It serves no purpose beyond itself, but it is immensely fulfilling in itself. You might find yourself thinking of someone right now and, right now, you might send them a calendar invitation for a one-on-one lunch.