Effective networking can prove to be a significant challenge to those who are new to the professional world. To some, it may come naturally –like an animal perfectly suited to its environment. To others, the idea of professional networking can be utterly mystifying, and the task itself may feel impure and inauthentic. Whether you’re a natural schmoozer or a bonafide introvert, it is vital that you understand how to maintain a healthy list of professional contacts in order to propel yourself through your career and broaden your knowledge of your field. To put it plainly, those who effectively network prove to be more successful and satisfied in their career.
The first hurdle to effective networking is often shedding the feeling of insincerity or doubt about engaging in networking activity. This is an all-too-common moral impulse that many of us have. While this is a perfectly natural response, there are two things to remember when you have this reaction: the first, to approach networking as an educational opportunity and a time to share experiences and mutual interests, and the second, those who network really do succeed. If you’re an introvert, you may find it consoling to view network events as a great place to learn about your professional field from varying perspectives –think about it as a research and development conference rather than a competitive social environment. I know that I always find it easier to chat with people when we have mutual interests, and a networking event is a perfect place to meet people who have something interesting to say. It is also helpful to keep in mind the reason why you are pursuing the work that you do. If you let your passion for, say, helping others guide you, for example, you’ll find it notably easier to take advantage of networking events as educational opportunities.
In addition to framing networking differently in your mind, it is also useful to know that those who effectively network outperform those who don’t. A study published in Administrative Science Quarterly surveyed 165 lawyers at a large North American business law firm and concluded that those who effectively networked received more billable hours than those who weren’t. In the world of law, billable hours is the standard metric used for measuring overall effectiveness and performance. Networking leads to success because it enriches your professional experiences and deepens your knowledge in your field. If you approach networking as an opportunity to learn and grow, advancement in your career will come as a result. It is critical to build relationships with other professionals throughout your career because you never know what opportunities will arise from a chance meeting. In fact, most job hirings are result of employee referrals. Creating networks of mutually beneficial relationships will open up opportunities for employment, and they will endow you with resources that you otherwise would not have access to. Sparking a connection with a professional colleague could lead to a more fulfilling opportunity that feeds your passion and deepens your knowledge.
There are different types of networking that you will need to be mindful of throughout your career. The first is networking within your organization. Here on campus, this means with your classmates and professors. Don’t hesitate to strike-up a conversation with a peer after class about something interesting he or she said during group discussion. Join clubs on campus related to your interests or field of study. I also recommend maintaining a healthy correspondence with all of your professors. Get feedback on your work and start a dialogue about the material covered in class; you’ll find this extra effort invaluable as you learn things that could have applications for either your career or for other courses you are taking. Most professors invite the opportunity to make a connection with a passionate student. It never hurts to have a small army of professional educators willing to write you letters of recommendation, either.
As you start the new semester, be on the lookout for networking events and opportunities for professional growth. The Career Center on campus with be sponsoring a number of events in the coming weeks and months that will provide students with a whole host of networking opportunities. On February 18th, there is an NPR workshop that will be led by NPR’s very own Senior Editor of Diversity, Luis Clemens. And if you’re more the math and science type, the Career Center will be hosting its STEM Career Fair on February 22nd. Both of these events will be a great way to make connections with those in your field that could potentially lead to an amazing opportunity. If you’re a little apprehensive about the prospect of engaging in large networking events, you can still get connected. If you’re shy (and even if you’re not), I strongly recommend creating a LinkedIn account. Think of LinkedIn as Facebook for professionals. It will ask you about your interests and education to connect you to people who have professional experience in these fields, as well as to employers and other students. If you’re unfamiliar with LinkedIn, the Career Center will be hosting a LinkedIn workshop on February 9th. Don’t miss out on these opportunities!
Until next time,