Love it or loathe it, networking is a key building block to career success
No matter what stage you’re at in your career, it’s hard to avoid hearing how important networking is to success. Extroverts might flourish when it comes to striking up conversations with strangers but could still be left wondering if they’re actually networking effectively. And then there’s introverts, who typically dread the mere mention of the word.
What if networking didn’t have to be dreadful? In fact, you might not even realize that you’ve been networking all along, regardless of your comfort or feelings about it. Even a simple act, like commenting on someone’s Instagram story or post can be the start of a new connection.
A simple act, like commenting on someone’s Instagram story or post can be the start of a new connection.
Professional recruiters Elisabeth Boehme and Nick Stadnyk are here to help redefine what networking means. The duo works in human resources at NAIT and joined the Career Essentials podcast to help explain not only why networking is so important but also how to network in a way that caters to both your personality and your career.
They also share different strategies for networking – whether that’s by having a conversation with a stranger in line for coffee, staying behind in class and chatting with a classmate, or taking it to social media. Regardless of how you choose to network, the goal remains the same: to create meaningful connections with people that can help support your career goals.
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I will confess, the image I have in mind whenever I think about networking is balancing a cocktail napkin with a pastry on it in one hand while holding a drink in another and trying to invite myself awkwardly into a conversation that you weren’t necessarily invited to. For those who also share and loathe this visual, how would you redefine networking for them in a way that’s more comfortable?
I’m not gonna lie, I do enjoy that cocktail party networking thing, but it is very performative and not indicative of networking as a whole. I really view networking as an organic type of process. You do have to be open and mindful to opportunities, but it doesn’t have to be that cocktail party or mixer. You could strike up a conversation at a grocery store and you recognize that’s someone that you want to have a more meaningful conversation with.
“You do have to be open and mindful to opportunities, but it doesn’t have to be that cocktail party.”
Networking is more than that cocktail party with awkward conversation. It should be more about exchanging ideas and developing a network. And not just at the higher-up level that might have [influence on] career opportunities, but also at your peer level.
For someone who’s not comfortable striking up conversation with people they don’t know, how do they make those meaningful connections?
That really speaks to my own personality. The idea of striking up conversation with strangers or potentially asking them to connect sounds terrifying to me. I think one way to network, especially early in your career, is as simple as building relationships with co-workers or fellow students. It’s much easier to chat with somebody in your class where you have something in common and building from there. And it’s also looking outside of your chosen field. It could be a part-time job or your softball team or someone you met in a different environment. Or, right now in our virtual environment, it might be lunch at your desk with a co-worker in front of your computers. It’s less intimidating to think of networking as taking an interest in people and building a relationship rather than looking at networking as meeting someone higher up the ladder who’ll give you a job.
“One way to network, especially early in your career, is as simple as building relationships with co-workers or fellow students.”
And speaking of our virtual environment, how do you have those happenstance encounters, whether it’s in the classroom or standing in line with a fellow student at a coffee shop? Does it all have to be on LinkedIn? Can it be more than just LinkedIn?
You still have to listen acutely. These relationships that you're fostering will always have a conversational cue, be it in the dialogue that happens in chat boxes in an online lecture or somebody commenting on a post and being able to riff off that and carry on a conversation. But make sure your comments are meaningful and not just three little fire-flame emojis, you know?
To continue on the line of networking digitally, does it all have to be on LinkedIn or are there other tools and techniques people should consider?
LinkedIn is a great tool, but even Facebook, Twitter or Instagram have plenty of opportunities to build your network and connect with people. Depending on your field, there’s online professional associations, blog pages and, you know, chat media, where you can engage with others. It's not quantity, it's really quality that matters. If you have 5,000 connections on LinkedIn, because you sent out connections to everyone and they accepted you, that's great. But how meaningful are these relationships? Having a few meaningful online relationships and being able to follow up with them, engage with them and comment on their post, and on Linkedin congratulate them on anniversary days, so that this person hears from you and not just when you have an ask. Having those touch points goes a long way.
“LinkedIn is a great tool, but even Facebook, Twitter or Instagram have plenty of opportunities to build your network.”
A lot of people early in their career, such as students, might feel pressure to start growing their networking by any means necessary. Is it rude to message someone you’ve never met to connect with them? Or are there other avenues that you would start with first before sending that initial cold call message? For example, writing “I’m interested in the type of work that you do. Could we have a conversation?” even though there hasn’t been a connection that was made before?
I don’t find them rude, but make sure you’ve done your research so that when you do reach out you’re actually able to engage with them more about specific questions. Be conscious and appreciative of their time.
What I find sometimes meaningful and where someone reaches out with a question like, “I saw you graduated from this program that I’m looking into taking. Is this the career I want to go into, would you recommend it?” Or, “Are there certain majors or areas that you can recommend?” Basically, they’ve shown they’ve done their research, they’re really exploring that topic. So the fact that somebody reaches out to us and asks for advice usually is quite flattering. It’s a key time to engage and start building those relationships.