In my experience…networking is crucial
I often envy those that are recent college graduates or getting ready to graduate because the entry-level professional world seems so vast and exciting. From my point of view there are many options and much to look forward to. Not to say that choosing a career path or actually landing a job is easy, rather that opportunity awaits those who can position themselves in the right place at the right time.
In no way do I want to go back to that age or stage because, while my journey has not been without its ups-and-downs, I’ve ‘been there and done that’. I am where I am and will make the best of where I go from here. That said, I’ve thought about what advice I’d give my younger self if I could. Many things come to mind but there is one nugget that stands out as an area I could have been much better at.
In my experience, networking matters, bigtime. Network, network, network! The benefits of networking are far more expansive than I can write about here. Intentionally or unintentionally, we all network throughout our careers, even if simply in interacting with those we work with. It’s not always effective or positive, but networking is both important and worthwhile, and it’s as much art as science.
Where to Network
Networking can happen almost anywhere if you open your eyes to the possibilities in both your personal and professional spaces. It happens in face-to-face interactions. It happens over the phone. It happens online. Not every interaction results in successful ‘networking’, but that’s ok and expected. I’ve made some great connections in unplanned interactions that seemed more like luck than anything else. I’ve also come away empty-handed from interactions that existed explicitly for networking purposes. The latter is likely more a reflection on my own shortcomings than that of the event or those around me.
How to Network
The ‘how’ of networking usually means some sort of conversation, whether live, recorded or typed. It’s a sharing of information, experiences, commonalities, likes, dislikes, plans, goals and / or dreams. Patience is a virtue when it comes to networking because sometimes an amazing networking opportunity takes work, planning, time and luck to actually make it happen. The key is to be ready and open when it does.
When I think of ‘why should someone network?’ it comes down to three things.
First, I see it as a way to create your future. While there will inevitably be others that look out for you, it’s really up to you to manage your life and your career. Networking helps you identify who and what you do and don’t like, which should serve as a guide for how you shape your future.
Second, money. Plain and simple, money (in my experience) is required in order to live. Networking is a key component in career-related moves, and careers or jobs are how most of us obtain money.
Third, the world is not fair. I don’t believe the world will ever be fair in all respects…some people are born into terrible environments, or have debilitating health issues, and others aren’t / don’t. Professionally, access to opportunity isn’t always fair, but I believe the more connected you are the better positioned you can be to 1) step into the path of opportunities and 2) capitalize on those opportunities when they do arise.
Back to those recent college grads and current students…this is one of a few times in life where the return on investment of the effort you put into networking is near its peak because, (almost) everyone is willing to help someone exploring or just starting a career. The same is true for those who are in the midst of tremendous success…networking effort ROI is likely high and easier to take advantage of than for those who are not having success and are in a time of need, sometimes viewed as desperation.
Here’s my advice…which I can’t say I’m following perfectly…yet! Make networking a habit, so regardless of whether you’re at a high point or a low point you’ve built networking muscle memory and conditioned your network to know that you are consistent and that staying connected is important.
Lastly, my definition of networking isn’t the accumulation of as many connections / friends as possible on social media for the pure purpose of having more connections / friends than someone else. I see networking as a mutually beneficial connection that helps each party meet goals or live a better life, ideally in a positive way.
Special thanks to Dr. Brad MacLaughlin, who is a networking machine, and to Kari Mirabal, in whose networking seminar I happened to sit next to a consultant I hired a week later to help with a key aspect of my business.