by Rossy Mendez, Head Editor, INALJ Puerto Rico
Networking: From Dirty Word to Mantra
Networking is often treated as a dirty word, it is the thing we have to do to get ahead but don’t want to acknowledge as the reason we got our jobs. If you are anything like me you stress over things like the length of time you speak to people or having the right body language when addressing a stranger. Networking is for most of us a chore or a rite of passage. It is a numbers game, a way to get to meet the “right” people. It is a well-known fact that in this competitive job market it takes more than the right set of skills to land the perfect job. Networking can make a difference between getting the job and taking a place in the pile of resumes.
Perhaps it is because I use to focus my attention on the “work” part of networking that networking events made me feel so anxious. I often felt like I was promoting myself like a souvenir in a gift shop. I lacked confidence because I measured myself according to the success of others. But I learned that networking is not an activity that is restricted to professional settings or a competition for most contacts gathered. Networking seemed to work best for me when it was part of a natural flow of conversation in the most unlikely of settings.
Recently, I attend ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia. To my surprise, my most valuable networking experiences were times when I was not focused on cultivating professional relationships. For example, I learned about an academic position through a girl I met at the hostel I was staying at. We had some common hobbies and spend time playing games like Cards against Humanity. She encouraged me to apply to a position within her institution and told me she was on the selection committee.
Another contact happened while waiting in line to get a book signed. I casually started talking to the guy behind me. While in conversation, I mentioned my area of interest. It turns out he knew of an institution who had an opening in my desired field and gave me that person’s contact information. I met a director of an organization I was interested while getting treats in social event. So as you can see from my almost “success” stories, networking opened up opportunities that would not have been available to me if I had just kept my mouth shut.
So even though I am nowhere close to being a networking guru I have some tips for you to keep in mind while you connect with others.
- DO smile- Simple as it sounds. Start with smiling and people would be more inclined to talk to you. Don’t overdo it though; you don’t want to look like you are a victim of bad plastic surgery.
- DO initiate small talk- I know small talk can be awkward but take advantage of funny moments or long lines and make comments about the weather or whatever comes to mind.
- DO treat everyone with respect- You never know if the person next to you is the library director of a major university or if that graduate student is connected to someone who is hiring. Talk to people outside your field, be friendly and treat everyone equally. In one occasion I had a long conversation with a janitor and he provided me insider tips concerning the culture of the institution and the people who worked in that department. With that said, don’t treat people as assets. People can most often tell when you are talking to them simply because you want something and not because you are actually interested.
- DO come prepared- When you do attend a networking event or even if you are simply in a group of like-minded professionals carry some business cards, dress appropriately and behave accordingly. You do not want to meet someone and then have no way for them to remember you.
- Do talk about other subjects- While you don’t want to get too heavily into politics, religion or any heavy handed subjects it is ok in a networking event to bring up sports, hobbies and other things into the conversation. It is also ok to say something funny as long as it is not offensive. Don’t be boring and just recite a copy of your resume. People like people they can relate to and that are easy going.
- Do sign up for mentors/buddies- In big conferences you can often sign up for buddies and mentors. While you don’t want to follow them like a tail you can ask them to introduce you to people and give you some relevant tips.
- Do follow up- There is simply no point in collecting a bunch of business cards if you do not remember who these people are. Add your contacts on Linked in and other social media networks depending on your interaction with them. Try to build genuine friendships with these people as they will prove to be helpful to you during your job search.
Ok so there are a few other things you can do to improve your networking experience.
- Volunteer– Volunteering is a great way to meet people as you already have one experience in common and it shows you are not just some selfish person that thinks about their own progress.
- Be active in a local chapter– Whether it is running for office of your school chapter or being a member of a local organization, being active will increase your network and show your service to the field. Even if you make it a point to just attend events, people will start to recognize you.
- Attend events in related fields– Not only is this valuable in helping you learn how disciplines work together but it might also expose you to some jobs you did not think about.
- Wear a conversation piece– No, not your button with vulgar lyrics or graphics but something like a cool necklace or a pop culture item always makes it easy to start a conversation. I cannot tell you how many times wearing cool stuff has connected me to people.
So keep these tips in mind and remember networking is not a chore is just a way for you to make new friends. You always have something to bring to the table whether it is experience or a fresh perspective. Let your (good) personality shine and get out there and mingle. Happy Networking!