One-Time Opportunities

I spent the evening attending a ceremony in which twenty-four juniors were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa (a club for people with high GPA’s, it’s the same as any other social club except they only ever meet to initiate new members). Anyway, there was a nice dinner and Daniel Gilbert gave a thought-provoking talk about the psychology of global warming. I got to chat with some bright, engaging juniors, most of whom were meeting each other for the first time. They talked about home and Homer and homotopy, and generally seemed to hit it off. But as the night ended and people trickled home, I realized that without explicit effort, most of them would probably never so much as break matzah together again.

Such one time opportunities are tricky to handle. In principle, they’re fantastic career-building romance-sparking events. In practice, they can be hard to take advantage of. Maybe you’re sitting at a table and you converse with three or four people throughout the evening. You make a connection, but there’s no context, and you don’t arrange anything for later. Since you hadn’t met each other before, chances are you won’t run into them much in the future. So how do you build on this?

The first thing you can do to capitalize on one-time opportunities is to get rid of the notion of “not knowing someone well enough.” As long as you’ve been introduced, you always know someone well enough to say hi in the Science Center, to chat in the dining halls. From there, relationships progress in a variety of fashions, and you can tailor your actions accordingly. Invitations to informal group events, for example, “I’m having a Green Card party next weekend. You should come!” are always welcome and appropriate. So are invitations to smaller get togethers like rock climbing or dinner in Boston. Phrase your interactions in terms of activities that they will perceive as fun or casual (let’s go to the beach), rather than as an obligation (come to my orchestra concert).

Of course, at a place like college, where community is emphasized, connecting and reconnecting is easy. In other situations, it’s harder, but still feasible. If you know that you’ll be able to find the relevant email addresses down the road (ask event organizers or mutual friends for contact information), then there is no rush. Throw a party, go out for coffee, invite the whole group, all at your leisure.

Otherwise, you’ll need to be a bit more proactive. I remember a plane ride from San Francisco to Boston a while ago. I sat next to a sophisticated girl from the Business School who livened up the flight with stories about her escapades in fashion, retail, and tech. Despite our proximity in Boston, I knew we wouldn’t run into each other again. On the cab ride back, I asked her if I could give her my email address. She had no reason to refuse, and she offered hers as well. This kind of exchange can happen on plane rides, during interviews, or while waiting in line. Sometimes it makes sense to follow up. Other times it doesn’t. But it always helps to have the option.

-Robert