Last week I attended a 2-hour long workshop at the Koffler Student Services Centre about networking. I arrived a little earlier to scope out the room and see if the environment I was signing myself up for was able to keep my social anxiety levels in check. It was a small conference room with a projector set up in front. I almost skipped out because small conference room = social interactions.
Finally, I decided to go in. This particular workshop was led by Diana Kudla Byers, a Career Educator at Career Exploration & Education, and here’s the breakdown. We went around the table and introduced ourselves and what we were looking for from this. She then proceeded by getting us to think about “networking.” What is it, how do you define it, what words come to mind when you hear it, and so on. Safe to say, the term “networking” has some negative connotations to it. People may think it is stressful, insincere, or even obnoxious. Personally, when I see networking events, I think it’s something I should probably attend but probably won’t because I wouldn’t know what to do in such a setting. Talking to people is stressful. It first involves learning how we talk to people and what environment works for what kind of conversations.
Networking is more than just talking to people though. It is about connecting. It is “a support system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups with a common interest.” There needs to be an authentic connection with two-way interactions, and thoughtful conversation (some subtle flattery maybe – make people feel good about themselves!). Networking is a form of social capital. It is a kind of mutual benefit and the learning of new knowledge. This new knowledge could be a job opening. As we may know, a lot of it is based on luck. However, the more you go out there and seize opportunities, the more likely it is that luck happens. For that to happen we need to practice, be comfortable, and confidence in ourselves. We need to prove value to other people.
Yes, but how? Before approaching any networking opportunities, make things much easier by keeping the following four things in mind:
- Focus on learning – by being curious, exploring, discovering, and generating new ideas.
- Identify common interests – by researching (stalking them on LinkedIn, their websites etc.), and finding experiences you may share.
- Know what you’re offering – new perspectives, advice, or even people (maybe from a university student side).
- Higher Goals – what are your bigger motivations? (maybe a dream job, a strong desire to help the world in some way, a career path you want to transition to).
Okay so there is all this personal knowledge and skills that you know you have, but how do you do that when around 85% of the jobs in Canada are not even posted? How do you become part of the internal referral employers use? This next part is what Diana called the Networking Process. It involves three main components:
- Knowing Yourself: Take a moment and think about what are three relevant things about you that your contact would want to know? Education? Experience? Hobbies/Interests?
- Finding Your People: You can get to your desired connection through other people. Professors, students, alumni, volunteering places, co-curricular, work, employment related events, online, family, family-friends, your neighbour, your barista – anyone and everyone can prove to be helpful.
- Practice and preparation: other than current positions and responsibilities, you can ask about where they see this career going, how they got here, would they do it all over again advice, what their week looks life, what they like about it, challenges, or even about working conditions. The most important one is always getting them to connect you further. “Is there anyone else you think I should speak with?”
Keep in mind to also maintain that network you’re working so hard to build up by following up within 24 hours!