August 1, 2012 • comment(s)
I always find it amusing when people compliment my networking skills, because I never feel a sense of mastery over networking. In fact, I frequently feel out of place, awkward, and vulnerable at networking events. What I have learned is that those are the secrets to great networking!
Welcome to Networking 101…
First and foremost, why is networking important? Think back to your Intro to (any introductory course in college). The first day they didn’t start you right at the fundamentals of that curriculum; they lured you in by showing you the end result. The “razzle dazzle” factor will be far more motivating than giving you puzzle pieces without a clue of what they will look like at the end. Thus my story begins…
Story #1: Like most university students, I worked out on campus at the University’s rec. center. I kept trying out new classes, and found myself in love with water aerobics. The class was high energy and the opposite of every stereotype I would had imagined – and gentle on my poor knees. I became a “regular” in class and made friends in the class, bonding over ridiculous (but effective) frog jumps and stereo sing-a-longs. It was about two months into my new addiction that I was approached by the instructor for a job opening in her office. It turned out that the aerobics instructor was much more, having a full-time career in one of the University’s most prestigious departments. I took that job.
Story #2: One of my friends from college had just moved back into town from another state, and I was still fairly new to Houston at that point. Women on a mission, determined to dive into networking through some of the major professional organizations available to communicators, we opted to attend a holiday party organized by multiple organizations working in harmony. We went there only knowing each other, and by the end of the night, had met a three women and talked about starting a dinner group with them. We exchanged business cards, and actually kept in touch.
For over two years, we got together regularly for our dinners. Those women were social, professional, fun and well networked. We invited others and suddenly our dinner group grew from five to over a dozen! Even though scheduling has led us away from regular get togethers, I am still comfortable reaching out to any of those women for professional advice, and am confident each feels the same way. While we may not have walked away with twenty business cards that night, we had three contacts that we truly connected with. As with many other things in the world, focus on a network of quality, not quantity.
The moral to these lessons is that you are always networking, regardless of how formal it may feel. You never know who you might meet, or where. I’m a social being, and network wherever I am. I happen to know that the customer sevice rep at my cable company works out at my gym, and that the young man who delivers mail to our office has a side business as a DJ, and just raised over $2500 for charity by playing video games. Don’t think of networking as a time when you put on your professional face, and try to collect business cards. It’s showing your true self to others, and listening to their story, whether in a professional or casual environment. This brings me to…
Story #3: Years ago, as I was establishing myself in a career, I had a myriad of questions. The job market was hard to penetrate for a recent graduate, as there were a number of young, ambitious professionals competing, and competition has only grown more fierce since.
Being resourceful, I found a wonderful listserv (yes, this was before LinkedIn and Facebook forever changed networking), and began asking questions and being an active part of that community. I made some strong connections through that group – people who have helped open doors for me, critiqued my resume, provided mentorship, offered freelance projects, and even got me involved with GlassHeel.com!
One of the co-founders of GlassHeel.com, Molly Cain, was actually member of the same listserv, and we became pen pals over appreciating one another’s advice on various topics. While you should always be careful how you represent yourself, you should also understand that even those of you who think you are “too busy” to attend networking dinners, happy hours and events, can find amazing connections online.
Over the years, Molly and I have both changed jobs, moved cities and balanced work and life through graduate school (while juggling full-time careers). Without having met in person, we had a strong relationship where I knew I could approach her for career advice, ask for job leads, and someone I’d confidently recommend for a position. While we were just “newbies” to the job market, I recognized the spark within her, and it has been fun to watch how we have both grown – and found over the years that we have even more in common than I could have imagined.
There is a community for everyone, whether that is in person or online. I personally recommend a balance of both. It’s important to be involved in your local community, and have relationships you can nurture in person. However, don’t limit yourself; finding connections across the country, or even across the globe, will broaden not only your network, but your perspective.
Janna Ball, former military brat, Business Journal "40 Under 40" Honoree and professional development junkie, believes that personal power is the key to success. When not she's not wearing her MarCom hat, Janna is traveling the globe and spoiling her two rescue pups.