Good ole fashioned networking – it’s more important than you think. In the day and age of social media and instant gratification, there’s nothing that compares to someone’s ability to socially engage not only behind the screen, but in front of it.
Networking is more than just exchanging business cards at a sporting event, cocktail party, or concert. Networking is more than bragging about yourself or asking for help from people you barely know. Networking is relationship building, based on trust and a give-and-take approach. Networking is about leaning on someone you barely know, with shared interests to either teach or learn. Today, networking is no longer an option, but a critical skill everyone should master to be successful in our careers.
You may be asking, why does networking matter? Why can’t I just connect with people on social media and rely on that? Simply put, networking works!
Back in the day, your options were only attending a job fair, going door-to-door dropping off your resume, or going down to your community employee placement center to have a conversation about obtaining employment. Now, your options have changed and are broader when you have a network (i.e., community) to support you. It’s one thing to have a killer resume and cover letter, it’s another to be able to send it to people who can help get it into the right hands.
The reality is, getting an entry level position by applying online through the normal application process will help you land the job, but being able to send it off to someone on the inside makes your chances of getting an interview and landing a higher-profile job more likely.
Most people do not work on building their network until it’s absolutely necessary. You lose your job, you get demoted, there’s major shuffling within your current organization, and you then start to build. However, if you start building your career network before hitting crisis mode, you have a better chance of gaining employment elsewhere at a faster rate. Remember, everything takes time, but having a network will streamline your process.
The best advice I can give you is:
- See every social opportunity as a networking opportunity.
- Carry business cards (make sure either your personal website or LinkedIn URL is on them).
- Be ready to answer the questions “what do you do for a living” and “do you like what you do?”.
- Always bring forth the best version of yourself. A first impression goes a long way, and you only get one chance to make one.
Networking goes beyond knowing everyone at your current and past place of employment, it’s knowing people outside the workplace that can advocate for you. When you have a network and maintain contact on a regular basis, it becomes part of your everyday life.
Getting started with social networking
When I say social networking, it goes beyond social media – it’s in-person and virtual events, it’s putting yourself out there, it’s always being prepared to talk shop.
Here’s how you get started:
- Research, research, research. Your time is valuable, so make sure you research the networking events you plan on attending. You need to make sure who you’re trying to connect with will actually be at the event. Imagine wasting your time at an event, one at which you put yourself out there socially and professionally, all to find out it was not the right networking opportunity for you. Don’t waste your time if you can help it. Also, when researching, make sure you plan your time accordingly, so you can meet as many people as possible.
- Stay positive. With a positive mindset, you will naturally prioritize adding networking events to your already busy schedule. Remember that networking is not a chore, it’s an essential part of your professional development. When you go to these events, keeping a positive attitude will attract people to wanting to socialize, A.K.A. network with you. And even if the event didn’t get you what you were hoping, staying positive moving forward will enforce prioritizing professional networking.
- Prepare. Make sure you have resumes on hand, as well as business cards. Dress well – your appearance at an event says a lot about the type of professional you are. Practice your pitch, because you may find yourself on the spot with the opportunity to present it. Think of your pitch as a TV commercial and try to keep it under 60 seconds.
- Have courage. You are putting yourself out there, which is not always easy. Be brave in the opportunities in front of you. Courageously have the conversations you want to have. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or even for help. Not to mention, people are attracted to bravery, and you may find your network growing at a faster #PACE than planned.
- Be open. Before attending a networking event, plan, but make sure it’s flexible. Networking has to be strategic – you’re there to connect for personal and professional growth – but also needs to allow for deviations from the plan. Stay open to conversations that are new or may not fully apply to you. You may find yourself connecting with someone that you can help, or they can help you in something you weren’t prioritizing at the event. The best connections are not always obvious, so listen, share your experiences, and find common ground with those at the event.
- Follow up. If you want to continue connecting with someone at the event, follow up. The event was an introduction, it did not solidify a relationship. Follow them on LinkedIn and their other social media platforms, if appropriate. Drop them a note asking to meet up for coffee. Also, if there was someone you wanted to connect with but found it was not possible, you can always ask the event coordinator for the invitee list, so you can look them up on LinkedIn. Create your own opportunities.
Networking can be intimidating, but it has a great payoff. Get yourself out there and start looking for networking opportunities that fit you and your professional needs. Just remember networking works! And when done right, it can be extremely effective in helping you grow professionally.