We all know the age old expression, “Its not what you know, it’s who you know,” but how many of us really take it seriously and do it right?
Is there even a right way to network?
Well, there is definitely a wrong way. I was at an event recently – but not just any event – it was the kind of event where you could be rubbing elbows and bumping into the CEO of Ford or a major news castor and have no idea. Really, an ideal place to network, but only if you know how to play the game. It’s a soft and delicate balance between being aggressive enough with your message and still following all of the basic social rules. I found out that’s it’s harder to achieve than I might have thought; more often than not you walk away looking overly intense, rude, or just plain weird.
I tried to reverent back to the elevator speech that I had honed and polished in all of my Gerstacker and Communications classes but often just ended up stumbling over my words. Maybe that stuff would have worked in an actual elevator but at a high society event with all of Detroit’s elite it just didn’t seem like the way to go. They were out enjoying their night and who was I to come and bombard them with my personal plug? I had to schmooze with them, make them feel comfortable with me, and then slowly work it in. Sweet-talking someone really can be an art form, but they don’t teach that in a classroom.
But what else are we supposed to do? Whether we’re trying to get internships, jobs, or just promoting a brand networking really is the key. Every job I have ever gotten, including babysitting gigs and my corporate one now (with the exception working at Little Caesars in high school), I’ve gotten because I know someone. So how do you meet all these people? How do you build that network without coming across wrong?
The truth is, you have to treat everything like a networking event, from family parties to a night out because you never know who you’re going to come in contact with and you might be surprised at the people they know. I found out at a family function that I have a relative who knows some pretty big people in the non-profit world – I’ve known her all my life but I never considered how much of a resource she could be to me. You really have to be alert and consider every person as a possible aid to you. The question “What do you do?” doesn’t have to just be small talk, it can be a tactful entrance into your own future.
So, treat everyday like a major networking event, but that’s not all. You must also rely on your network’s network. This might seem obvious since it’s the whole premise of Linkedin but it’s way more valuable without the computer screen. I can’t tell you how many connections I made in the time I was searching for a job. It seemed like every person my parents had ever met was coming out of the woodwork as a possible lead. Even though most of them didn’t turn into anything at the time, the seed was planted for me to reach out to them again later down the road. Since I’ve taken my job I’ve gotten multiple other offers from these random people I e-mailed with along the way. Thankfully, I don’t need them now but one day I might and when the time comes I’ll be thankful that I reached out to them in the first place.
That’s another thing – don’t be shy about all of it. Initially I was afraid of looking too desperate but the truth is, you’re in college, they already know you’re desperate and they want to help! Most people have been there, they know how real the struggle can be, and they might even have kids who are in the same position. I was so shocked to see how many people were so eager and willing to help me but the whole “right out of college” pity doesn’t last for long. You have to use it and take advantage while you can!
Finally, my last piece of advice to all you job seekers out there, pay it forward! Don’t think that just because you’re all set in your nice little cubicle or whatever that this means you’re all done with the game. Besides for continuously trying to build your own network you should also be maintaining it so that when someone comes to you asking for a connection you can return the service that other’s gave to you. Your friends, siblings, significant other, and acquaintances will all need jobs at some point! How lucky are you if you’re already in a position and are able to help them? Think of it as good working karma, or as paying back your dues, either way it’s important to share the love.
Lets review – These are my rules and strategies (from the little experience that I have) on how to play the networking game:
- It’s not just what you have to say, it’s how you deliver it. Consider what’s appropriate for every situation.
- Treat everything like a networking event.
- Treat every person you meet as a potential connection, no one is to big or two small to approach. Consider that it’s not necessarily him or her that you’re after, but also the connections that they might have.
- Milk every ounce of help you can get.
- Like all things in life, pay it forward.