Networking: what is it?
First of all, networking is not a dirty word! It should never be about being opportunistic and taking advantage of people, it is about creating and maintaining a group of people who can serve to guide and advise you in your career. You build a network to connect with people who are interested in and excited about the same things that you are. Networking gives you opportunities to practice talking about yourself, and to listen and learn about others. It is going to be through networking that you find out about opportunities (for further networking and for jobs).
My definition of what constitutes networking is very broad. It is informed by my own research practice of ethnographic fieldwork, approaching others with an open mind, with curiosity, participating with them and observing by paying attention to how they think about things and what this teaches you about yourself and your ways of being and doing. I suggest that you are all already networking, that we all are, every day of our lives. Thus, while I cannot teach you how to network, what is can do is make you more aware of your current network, how to activate it, and how to build and maintain it.
So, who is in your network? From your personal life: Your family, your friends, your significant others, your doctors, dentists, etc. Basically anyone that you talk to as you shop, eat, drink, exercise could potentially be part of your network. People that you know through your work life you probably already think of as part of a network, but for those of you who are in school, remember that your classmates and your teachers are and will be central figures in your network. You network every day when you show up to class, when you hand in homework, when you study together and even when you hang out and blow off steam afterwards. For better or for worse, being a part of a community means being accountable to those around you, so when you begin to think about networking, one of the things that you want to do is become more aware of how you come off, and how others see you. Along these lines, and in the spriti of soliciting honest feedback, you may be interested to read my story about the non-reversing mirror.
Of course, there will be people who abuse their networks, and you will want to avoid them, or manage them carefully, and be mindful that you never become that person. Perhaps now is a good time to review the golden rules of networking:
Three golden rules of networking
• Networking is not about asking for a job, it is about learning about someone’s professional path, getting feedback about your own. The exchange should arise out of a genuine curiosity and interest.
• Be respectful of this person’s time. For example, by researching the company before you come to meet with them (even if you know that you would not want to work there). DO NOT waste time in an informational interview by asking what their organization does.
• Be paying attention for ways that you might be able to help this person, resources that you could share, connections that you could make, ways that you could give back.
I have read in the Economist that for every job any successful person has at least 16 other people, key individuals in their network who are out there thinking about you. With the exception of jobs that I have had in restaurants, just about every single job that I have ever gotten, with a handful of exceptions, I got through my network.
Perhaps because of its tremendous value, networking is difficult!! And the anxiety about networking continues even after you have made the contact. Maintaining contact is work and it can be nerve-wracking. But one of the key objectives of maintaining your network is just to keep prompting their memories to think about you and thinking about people for you to meet and activities for you to be aware of. There is probably no better way to do this than just being physically in someone’s office. You may happen to come in on a day when they have had a meeting about needing to reach out to interns. To stay in their minds, you may offer to do a bit of research or a volunteer project for them. Think about them the way that you would want them to think about you: send them articles that you come across which you think are likely to interest them. Let them know about events likely to be of interest to them! Be the informational interviewee that you wish to see in the world! 🙂