What comes to mind when you hear the word “networking?” Do you think of a cocktail party and a room full of suits? Does the word get you excited or make you want to crawl under your living room sofa? No matter what your personality might be, learning to network is a critical skill to develop, and much more fun than you might think.
So…exactly what is networking? It’s connecting with people who have wisdom, opportunities, or additional connections to share with you. For example, let’s say you’re looking for a summer job or volunteer opportunity in the arts. First you go talk to your art teacher. Makes sense, right? Your art teacher doesn’t know of any opportunities, but she happens to know another woman on your town’s arts council. She sets you up to talk with that woman, who has a lot of wisdom to share about the arts, but no direct opportunities to offer you. But then she connects you with the volunteer coordinator for the summer art festival in town. That’s networking.
Developing a network may seem unimportant now, but the further you progress in your professional development, the more critical it becomes. It helps when looking for work, of course, but networking is more than that. It provides an opportunity to learn from experienced people about fields that may interest you in the future.
So, how do you network? Here are 5 tips to get you started:
Think broad: Your “network” is much broader than you think. Sure, it can include your relatives, but think outside the box. Your friends’ parents, teachers, coaches, job supervisors…even the person who cuts your hair are all part of your network.
Let people know you want to network: Networking is sort of like dating. Nobody can set you up if they don’t know you’re looking, right? So be open about your interests and goals. If a friend’s parent asks you about your interests, tell them! Better yet, if they know someone in a field that interests you, tell them you’d love to talk with them. Networking is as easy as chatting with a parent at a football game.
Learn the art of the Informational Interview: An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like…it’s an “interview” you set up with a person that’s doing something that interests you. You ask the questions, and then you listen. We’ve rarely seen an informational interview not result in something like another contact, a helpful bit of information, or even a job/volunteer opportunity. And they’re fun…promise.
Networking is more about listening than talking: You might think of networking as a time to “sell yourself.” This is a view of networking that frankly freaks most people out, but it’s a common misconception! Think of networking as connecting. Just have a reciprocal conversation with someone, and approach it as the time to learn from them. You’ll learn more than if you were talking the whole time, and they’ll feel more positively about you too…and be more likely to help you out.
And most importantly…
Maintain your network: Going back to the example at the beginning of this article, your conversation with the woman on the arts council may have been more like an “informational interview” than anything else. Be sure to send her a thank-you note, and then FOLLOW-UP! Let her know how your summer experience went, and touch base from time to time to update her on your involvement in the arts. You never know when she might have an opportunity for you.
And have fun with it!
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