When I began doing what I thought was networking, I didn’t see the point. I thought it was just me talking to as many people as humanly possible and talking about myself so that they or someone they knew would offer me a job. I didn’t realize how far this was from the truth until I encountered people who actually knew how to effectively network in a way that didn’t seem like they were pitching their abilities to every person with a job they met.
I’ve come to learn that there’s much more to networking than talking about myself, and it’s not a one-way street. Really, it’s just beginning and continuing dialogue with people in order to benefit yourself and them in any way possible. It’s the assumption that the more people you know, the more you can do. If you think of yourself and every person you meet as a door, it makes sense that the more you open, the more you’ll find, and those doors usually lead to even more doors within. So start opening your own doors. Start networking.
1. Talk to your guidance counselor
The first place you should always start when looking for advice related to careers is your guidance counselor. Not only are they great resources for helping you find a career path and a way to pursue that path, but they’re also capable of connecting you with others who might be able to help you pursue your dreams. Talk to them about what you want to do after high school, and they might have contacts who could help you on your way.
2. Talk to alums
Alums are a great pool of people to connect with because they already have a connection to you. They’ll be likely to want to help you because they’ve been in your shoes and can probably identify strongly with the obstacles you’ve faced while in school. Ask your guidance counselor if there are any alums working in the field you’re hoping to pursue, and start a conversation via email, LinkedIn, or even Facebook or Twitter.
3. Use social media
Even though you’ve probably only used social media for “social” activities so far, you should start converting your profiles from social to professional outlets. You can connect with virtually anyone on social media, and that includes people who are doing jobs that you want to do and looking for people like you to help or hire. These days, everyone is contacted via social media with professional questions and requests, so don’t feel like you can’t strike up a conversation of Facebook or ask a question on Twitter. This is more and more acceptable as long as you present yourself in a professional manner and you’ve cleaned up your profiles. LinkedIn is the best way to initiate communication with professionals because it is a social network specifically designed for professionals, so I would suggest using it if you’re comfortable. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account yet, it might be worth making one, if only for the purpose of networking because it allows you to search for companies, people, groups and causes and start a conversation on a platform that is designed and intended for networking.
4. Talk to teachers
If there are teachers with whom you’ve spent a lot of time throughout high school, make sure they know what your career plans and goals are. They might be able to help you or know someone who can, and they’ll be likely to search for someone, consulting their own network of professional connections, if you have a close relationship with them.
5. Talk to your parents and their friends
Talking to your parents about their own jobs, especially if they relate to your own career plans, can be exceptionally helpful. Parents tend to meet a ton of people in their everyday lives whether it’s at work or the grocery store, and the number of people they have access to might surprise you. They might have a friend who could help you or they might know someone who they could befriend to help you make them an acquaintance of your own. I see this happen all the time with my parents, including a few days ago when my dad told me he’d met a famous author while working on a contracting job. It wouldn’t seem like a general contractor would run into many authors, but it happened, and it happens frequently (even if the person isn’t famous, your parents could easily run into someone who works for a company you’re hoping to find a job at).
6. Follow up with every new contact
Once you start talking to someone, don’t stop. If you meet someone and have a great conversation, it will mean nothing if you don’t follow up with them afterward. Send them a short message on any social media platform and let them know you’re grateful for their time and support. You might even have a question or two that you didn’t think to ask before, and this is a great time to ask. Asking questions is also an easy way to continue talking to a person and reminding them that you’re there every few months so that they don’t forget who you are and that they might be able to help you someday.
7. Put yourself out there
If it’s nerve-racking to think about introducing yourself to complete strangers on a daily basis, you’re not alone. It can be awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will be, and the more confidence you’ll gain in your ability to begin and continue a conversation.
8. Be yourself, and be genuine
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, don’t feel like you have to play yourself up. Just talk like you would to anyone else, and don’t feel like one conversation will make or break your entire professional life. Each person you add to your network is interested in understanding you, as a person, and your personality more than your accomplishments because your personality will be what they remember most. They won’t remember that you’ve logged 50 community service hours or had an awesome job last summer, but they’ll remember who you are and what you’re like.
9. Articulate a clear goal or ambition. But don’t pitch yourself
The biggest mistake to be made while networking is using a pitch. Most of the time, unless you’re at a career fair or somewhere where people are actually looking to hire you, people just want to have a normal conversation. They want to know more about who you are, and they want you to ask about them as well. If you start a conversation with, “Hi, these are my career goals, and this is why I’m awesome,” that conversation will, of course, go nowhere. Instead, just start with a simple hello. Tell the person your name, and tell them why you’re excited to meet them. Make it about them, and they’ll be more inclined to make it about you.
10. Don’t skip the small talk
Even though it might seem like there’s no point to a conversation that includes mostly small talk, there is a point. Small talk gives people an indication of whether you’re friendly, positive, genuine, and likeable, and they have to know whether they like you before they know whether they want to help you professionally. So don’t feel like you’re wasting time by talking about everything but the reason you wanted to meet them. If they have to end the conversation before you’ve asked any relevant questions or gained any new information, just tell them you had some questions for them and that you’d like to keep in touch. Offer your email address and ask for theirs, and don’t be worried about how much time you spent on seemingly useless talk. If you get a contact, it’s not a waste.
What are some things you can do to make networking easier and less stressful? Where do you network most frequently?