I would not have succeeded in school or my professional life without networking. It isn’t something only business people do when looking for a job. Everyone should network, all the time, even you. And the sooner you start the better.
My grandmother pounded into my head, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” I believe that’s mostly true. You may have the best grades and leadership skills, or excel at sports, but if nobody knows it, what good will it do you? Your accomplishments are only part of the equation. Who you know and how you present yourself are just as important.
For now, networking is about introducing yourself, and making connections with people from whom you can learn or possibly gain assistance. Networking can help you get into the college of your choice, learn about various careers, and build valuable personal and professional skills you’ll use throughout your life.
It can be awkward for everyone
You’re probably going to feel awkward as you start building your networking skills. I did. It’s natural.
I met a professional I respected while in college, who later became my mentor. I asked him to introduce me to everyone he knew. He took me to meetings and events, and although its what I wanted, these were new, uncomfortable settings for me. He kept encouraging me, “Keep coming and, eventually, they’ll get to know you. And always bring your business cards, you never know who you’re going to meet.”
Networking will push you outside of your comfort zone. I was uncomfortable at first, but over time, it got easier. There are still times I’m uncomfortable, but I’ve learned to force myself. I’m always learning better ways to network.
Where to network
There are basically two types of networking: groups and one-on-one.
A good place to start is in settings with people you’re already acquainted: sports groups; fundraising events; church, synagogue or mosque functions; or any other place you would already be. Your goal is to practice walking up to someone you don’t know, introduce yourself, and start a conversation.
If you know someone that attends professional networking groups, you may want to ask them if you can tag along sometime. Ask them to introduce you to a few people, then strike out on your own and start introducing yourself.
One-on-one meetings are generally with someone specifically you want to meet. It could be someone who graduated from the college you want to attend, is in a career you’d like to consider, or you respect and simply want to meet.
First, find out if you already know someone who can introduce you. Ask around. Maybe your friend’s brother, for example, didn’t graduate from the college you want to attend, but he may know someone who did. You never know until you ask.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the person you want to meet with or send them an email. Tell them why you’re contacting them. Most people will be willing to give you an hour of their time. Before you meet with them, write down the questions you’d like to ask, and have paper and pen ready to take notes. I suggest you meet at their office.
Find your motivation and get out there. Introduce yourself. Meet lots of people in different settings. It gets easier with practice. You’ll meet some incredible people, who may be able to give you a bit of advice or a helping hand. You’ll be amazed to find out you have more in common with others than you may have thought.
Who do you want to meet?
Seven benefits of networking
Build your self-confidence
Gain experience introducing yourself and others
Interact with others in professional settings
Practice keeping a conversation going
Learn about various industries and types of work
- Learn about people from different backgrounds