A while ago, the opportunity to partake in a networking event as a mentor arose. I took immediate interest in the event because I wanted to participate in something that granted change, no matter how big or small, in someone’s life.
Upon reaching out to the event’s organizers, I was informed that participants were interested in information such as background and experiences, job searching tips, and other information that would be helpful in career development. To prepare, I made sure I had an elevator pitch, a professional outfit, and my business cards with me. I also set a goal for myself. I made a note to connect with one employer and one participant. How difficult could it be? It was more challenging than I thought.
I was the first to arrive at the event. There were no participants and no employers present yet. I made myself comfortable with the refreshments provided, sat at my designated seat, and read over the notes I made. This was my first ever networking event outside of school. There were no familiar faces for me to approach and stay with. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and make an effort to reach my goal of meeting two people that night. There were plenty of thoughts that ran through my head as I waited patiently for the others to arrive. Will I stutter during my elevator pitch? Have I made it interesting enough? Is it too simple? Too complicated? Should I approach the organizer and make small talk? If I do, will she think I am being too assertive, or will I seem confident? If I don’t, will it seem like I am aloof even though I was only trying to get the courage to approach her? This is a new experience. I told this to myself multiple times throughout the night.
When I finally gathered the courage to approach her, we laughed and learned about each other’s interests. Then, participants and other employers arrived and the networking between both parties began. In the span of two hours, I learned valuable information about myself and networking in general:
- Don’t wait until you need a network to build one.
- Networking is important and in general, the goal is to meet new people and build your contacts, but this goal does not have to be met through a proper networking event.
I believe that networking professionally is imbued with the goal of meeting new people and building your contacts. Traditionally, the prerequisites to succeed at a networking event might include exchanging names, business cards, and useful information in the hopes that a long-term relationship will flourish. On one hand, some might deem these interactions to be inauthentic or forced. It can be awkward for some or uncomfortable for others. On the other hand, others enjoy the freshness and novelty of meeting new people and building a relationship from the ground up. There is a deep admiration in first time experiences, especially in meeting a prospective professional contact.
Another direction to take is to tap into your personal connections. Navigate within the closer community you have and determine what it is you seek and how you can be of value to them. The ones who are close to you are valuable resources because they may think or behave similarly to you. Visually speaking, this strategy is like a mind map. It begins with you, your friends and family, your coworkers, and then continues with who they know. The amount of connections will multiply before you know it. By building the relationships that are authentic to you, you are more likely to move towards the direction you want to be in.
This article was inspired by my personal networking experiences and a podcast episode called Show me your friends & I’ll show you your future that features David Burkus, author of the book “Friend of a Friend”.
Thank you for reading!