Even for those of us who consider ourselves to be independent, self-starting, highly motivated do-it-yourself-ers, life is a team sport. We often think we can handle everything on our own, but the truth is, we need people in our lives to help us get to the places we want to go. Networking – that seemingly superficial act of meeting new people, making connections and creating relationships – may not always be at the top of our to-do lists, but let’s remember some of the key benefits of investing in such a venture.
Let’s start with the most obvious. I know — you might actually become genuine friends with someone new. Shocker. Not every relationship you create through networking will lead to more sales, a job opportunity, a client referral, etc. and that’s okay! There is true value in having real friends in the workforce. Having people who motivate you, listen when you need them to, or make you laugh on a Monday morning before you’ve had your first cup of coffee all make work much more enjoyable.
Learn about opportunities
Want to know a secret? You can google away all day, but sometimes job opportunities only exist by word of mouth. Having a network of people who know you, your skills, and your goals is essential because if they hear of a perfect opportunity for you, they’re going to give you a call.
Have people to call when you need advice
As we progress in our careers, we will undoubtedly face issues and challenges. Sometimes those challenges involve needing to reach out to an expert in a specific field to get advice. Whose advice is more valuable to you – the advice from a stranger or from someone you have known for years? It’s a no-brainer. Having knowledgeable, trust-worthy people in your network is a huge advantage.
I know what you’re thinking, “well, that sounds great, Amy, but I don’t like networking. It’s awkward.” I’ll be honest with you – I agree. Networking definitely gets easier over time, but I still get intimidated walking into an event where I don’t recognize a single familiar face. Fear not! Here are a few tips to get you through a networking event:
Take a deep breath.
Relax! You aren’t the only one who finds networking events a little uncomfortable or awkward. Most of us will agree networking events can seem daunting at first, so take comfort that you aren’t alone. Remember that everyone is there for the same reason, so just dive in.
Go to the bar.
No people, I’m not encouraging you to go drink. Say you arrive at an event and you don’t know anyone. How do you find someone to talk to? Head to the bar! It’s a great place to strike up a conversation with someone while waiting for a drink.
Just be yourself.
The whole point of networking is to build relationships, and that will not happen if you can’t be yourself. When you introduce yourself, be YOU. Don’t try to be the person you think people want to you to be. People naturally connect with genuine people.
Would you ever go to an interview without preparing? Into a big meeting without having an agenda? Networking events, especially if they’re not your “thing” are no different than these other center-stage activities. So prepare. Have a couple of questions ready to ask about a new contact you could meet, and be prepared to talk a little about yourself.
If you have a game plan, but your knees are still shaking, read on. Some people are just naturally good / better at breaking the ice, talking to total strangers, or carrying on a conversation with an area rug. If you are NOT this person, make it your goal to befriend one of these people – quickly. Then invite them (periodically) to be your guest at said networking event. They will help you “open doors” to your new network. Teamwork is not cheating – it’s just another form of preparation.
Don’t be afraid to follow-up.
Did you meet someone interesting? Swap business cards with him or her and don’t be afraid to follow-up! Networking gurus recommend an email or phone call within 48 hours of the initial meeting. Mention something personal in the message showing that you remember the conversation you shared before.
The sooner you start networking, the better.
If you are already working, seek out opportunities to network and meet people. If you’re still in college, I encourage you to start by visiting your professors. You never know what kind of advice they may have for you. (True story: I first learned about ATKG because my professor introduced it to me when I stopped by to chat. So thanks Dr. Pitman, I guess it’s safe to say that you were right.) No matter what stage you are in, you are surrounded by people who could be part of a great network for you. Start talking.
Okay, are you ready to practice your networking skills now? Here are a few upcoming events to consider:
- SACPAs Fall Open House – Martinis, Margaritas & More
- Texas Lutheran University Fall Job Fair
- St. Mary’s University 2016 Business Week
- SACPAS Young Accounting Professionals Women’s Social