Networking was ingrained into my system by the time I graduated college.
My professor would always say, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” when the topic of careers came up in class.
He wanted me to start joining news and journalism associations and go to almost any event that claimed to be specifically for students with a communications major.
“You should go, Hope. It’ll be a great networking opportunity!”
Talking to a random person solely for the purpose of a possible “career connection” seemed so artificial. To me, it was like being that “friend” who only wants to be close to you because you have something they want.
I’d go to the events, say hi to several people, make conversation when it seemed organic, and then go home—with little to no new numbers or emails. (Doesn’t this sound like some corny dating game?)
My professor hated that I wasn’t on the prowl for every business card I could find, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what networking really was about—building real relationships.
As I think back at the real connections I made in school, during my internships, and on my career path, I realize that I was networking all along. The “industry relationships” I’ve gained along the way are a result of trying to be the best employee/coworker I could be, being myself to those I just met, and not only caring about the things that would benefit me.
You can’t succeed at networking if you’re acting like a piranha—attacking at the first sight of someone wearing a name tag from an organization in which you aspire to work.
Networking takes time, and just like any other valuable relationship you have, you can’t build it overnight. Introduce yourself, state why you’re introducing yourself, and let any conversation that naturally flows from that take its course.
Online, connecting with others is just a click away with the rising popularity of LinkedIn. But don’t be too “click happy” and start trying to build your network just for number’s sake. It’s quality over quantity.
Who cares if you have more than 500 connections on LinkedIn if you’re not even close enough to a handful of them to call or send a direct email without it being awkward?
This isn’t a criticism of “meet and greet” events. It’s a great way to meet other professionals—but don’t think your job is done just because you’ve exchanged information.
Unless your hobby is collecting business cards, what you do with your contacts after those events is where the real networking takes place. Build real relationships and maintain them. That’s what networking is all about.