The Time to Start Networking Is Now – Take Two

Yesterday, the Career & Leadership Development staff had their own professional development session with Julie Bauke of Congruity Career Consulting. Julie was on campus all day and presented “Build Your Network, Build Your Career” to students in the evening. Our staff development session with Julie was amazing! The conversation was really inciteful, and I believe we all took away good advice that we can use to help students’ and our own careers.

While the focus of our staff development wasn’t networking, the topic did come up. Networking is so crucial to your career – for finding an internship or job to building success in your work – that there’s likely no way the topic wouldn’t have come up. However, it was amusing that in a room full of my co-workers who all like to work with people and have chosen to work with people, several of them cringed when we started to discuss networking. The term “networking” has definitely gotten a bad rap.

When people think of networking, they think of attending a huge event, where they don’t know anyone, and having to “work the room.” This is not a fun idea to most people, nor does it really capture the true essence of networking. Networking is NOT “working a room,” and it is not about using people. Networking is really a process of building mutually beneficial relationships with people you already know at some level. And the focus should be on quality, not quantity.

You already have a network – your network is everybody you know. Your family, friends, neighbors, professors, supervisors, etc. are all a part of your network. You know some of these people better than others. Those who you know better – and people who know you well (in a good way) – are the people you can ask more of. And what about the “mutual” benefit piece? As a student, what can you offer to the people in your network (you know, so you don’t feel like you’re using them)? Find out what’s important to those people, then keep your ears and eyes open for resources, ideas, and people that can help with what matters to them.

I must give another mention to the great blog post by Joe Bucher, “Networking Tips for the Shy Student.” I mention it again because this is why some of my co-workers cringed when networking came up. They are people who hate small talk and aren’t necessarily the most outgoing when surrounded by strangers. But this isn’t what true networking is about. It’s not small talk, but having a goal and talking with a purpose. What is important to you right now? What is it that you need some help with? Why are you reaching out to another person? Keep your answers to these questions in mind and you suddenly have your goal and purpose. On a side note, it might even be true that introverts are better at networking than extroverts. Why? Relationship building is all about listening, something that introverts can do very well.

Did you attend Julie’s presentation? What did you think? What challenges are you facing when it comes to networking? What strategies work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave me a comment!