While it’s fairly known that upwards of 70% of jobs are obtained through some form of networking, I have found we tend toward narrow definitions of this concept. Additionally, many people abhor the myths of networking (awkward, forced, inauthentic, large events, for other people) which keep them from engaging in any kind of networking activities.
So first, let’s redefine networking to simply “building relationships.” To build a relationship takes investment of time and of yourself, intentionality, reciprocity and generosity.
Be open to opportunities that may come your way.
I was at a meeting on behalf of a service project with my church. I was seated at a table randomly and we were given a couple topics to discuss. As I shared my thoughts on the topic, I connected with a woman across the table whom I’ve never seen before and liked what she had to say. I went up to her after the event to share contact info and see if we could talk more. She asked me a couple questions about my work, and I shared my transition to motherhood and interest in working closer to home. She then told me about her assistant who left to stay home with her kids and how she’d love to talk more to me about that position. We followed up via email with details. I didn’t apply after learning more, but I literally was invited to apply to a job simply by expressing my own thoughts and then following up with my real needs. So get out there and talk to people!
Get humble and ask for help.
I moved to Orlando, FL in 2007 after graduation. I was doing a year-long internship with a large nonprofit. As the year progressed and I knew I didn’t want to stay in Orlando, the pressure was on to figure out my plan. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go but had dreams of moving to NC since my family had vacationed there my whole life. I researched a few graduate programs, made some calls and decided I wanted to establish residency in NC before going to school so I needed employment. I sent a mass email to my parents’ friends, extended family and peers from high school and college to update them on my life, my plans and areas where they could help. I also told everyone I worked with and asked for ideas and contacts who lived in NC. Now this may sound desperate, but I knew I couldn’t do this without connections. We are not islands – we are part of systems and networks and I believe people want to help others if and when they ca. What came from that was amazing. I received encouragement, connection to churches, ideas for work and roommates, and offers to look at my resume or share it with someone they knew.
Get curious and stop making assumptions
When I was 16, my parents had their annual meeting with their financial advisor who was a friend from our church. During the meeting they were just updating each other on their families and he mentioned his son was going to Eastern Kentucky University for school. He also told my budget conscious parents that his son qualified for reduced out-of-state tuition given where we lived in OH. My mom shared this information with me just as a curiosity and I explored further. My initial thought was “Kentucky? Why would I go there, I want to go further away from home and closer to the beach – North Carolina here I come!” But we decided to do a campus visit and fast forward, I’m a proud alumna of EKU with a BA in Public Relations and an honors graduate. The life skills I gained and the friends I made have impacted who I am today in immeasurable ways.
Be a giver.
Any good friendship is reciprocal in that there are times when you give and when you get. The same is true with networking. As we seek to build authentic relationships with strategic people who may be able to help us in our careers, we need to look for ways we can give not just receive. Adam Grant defines this well:
I have served on the board of the NC Career Development Association for several years in a variety of position. This service has been so valuable to me personally through the relationships formed and the professional support I have felt. It has also allowed me to meet leaders in our field across our state, and even nationally. As one of the veteran board members, I’m able to share what was done in the past around a topic and offer insight from my vantage point.
Know what you need.
When I had my first child, I was job searching on maternity leave so I could reduce my commute and have more flexibility. I interviewed but nothing had panned out. I went back to my full time job 40 minutes away and struggled. My identity shifted from all-in worker to mom and worker and I wanted my time to be used differently. Through conversations with my partner and self-awareness of my skills, must-haves and desires – I decided it was time to “activate” my network and see what I could uncover that could help me change my work life. I wrote an email to a few folks at my church who were well connected in my city and shared my desire to live and work in the same place. I didn’t know all of them well, but I did feel confident they were the kind of people who would help if they could. I received a few quick replies with prayers and encouragement. Then I got an email asking for my resume to share with someone he played basketball with weekly. I replied and got connected with one of the leaders at Wake Forest. That conversation led to two opportunities he knew about that I could explore further. I did a few more meetings with folks and got interviewed for the job I have now as a career coach for graduate students.
So be open, get humble, get curious, be a giver, and know what you need. Do these things and you’ll not only have a stronger network to help when you need it but you’ll be an asset for others now and in the future.
Now’s the time to be career savvy.
Want to define your meaningful work so you can communicate it clearly to others? Check out this free worksheet guiding you through creating your own statement!