by Alexandra Janvey, Head Editor, INALJ Iowa
Networking Gets a Bad Rap
The dreaded word, networking, was once the bane of my existence. And mostly because—get ready—I convinced myself it was. Like many other library school students, I had been repeatedly advised on how important networking was for an efficient job search. “It has long been a successful method of finding employment,” and “Jobs are being increasingly filled based on referrals” are just some of things others kept telling me.
Though I’m not shy, I’m not exactly a social butterfly, either, and I still imagined that the effort of reaching out to strangers was going to be uncomfortable. I began attending networking events with a negative mindset, but once my initial fear and nervousness passed, I found networking transformed itself into a positive experience. It wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined, and I enjoyed meeting other librarians and archivists in the field. I also developed some useful tools and habits that helped to optimize my experiences.
Most professional organizations now have calendars with upcoming networking events located on their websites and use social media to promote them. To keep apprised of upcoming events, it’s a good idea to check these websites occasionally and also follow these organizations on social media. Another great way to find out about events is through listservs, even individual organized get-togethers, so make sure to subscribe to these as well. There are also a growing number of different types of networking events to choose from. Speed networking and bingo games are some of the most recent events I’ve been hearing about. Some gatherings are better suited for a person than others; it all depends on your personal preference. Try attending an assortment of events and decide for yourself which is most productive.
Have a positive and generous attitude
Your attitude can make or break the experience of a networking event. Attempting to network with a negative outlook will likely yield negative results. Why sabotage yourself before even walking through the door? Others will be able to pick up on your negativity as well. No one enjoys talking with a downer. Likewise, don’t network with the “What can I get out of this?” approach. There is no technique for knowing when and from whom great opportunities will come. More importantly, this is not at the heart of what networking is about. Networking is about reaching out to others, building relationships, and helping each other. Set out to assist others, and that good karma will eventually be returned. Consider all that you have accomplished and all that there is still to learn. Networking is a great way to get informed about current trends, get advice for gaining employment, and build a supportive network.
Setting goals, even small ones, helps you to prepare mentally for networking. It provides something to focus on other than your rattling nerves, and it makes the task of networking seem less daunting. Just meeting and connecting with one new person at a gathering should be considered a success. It may seem like a small amount, but it quickly adds up and will result in an extensive network before long. These goals will also provide motivation for attending networking events and you will be rewarded with a feeling of accomplishment when your goal is achieved. If you are anything like me and come up with all kinds of excuses to not attend these events, then this motivation will be needed.
Accept that it will be awkward
As is the case with many things, the hardest part of networking is getting started. The most uncomfortable moments involve getting a conversation started. It’s awkward; accept it, and move on. The longer it takes to go up and make an introduction, the more difficult it will become. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to get more nervous and conjure up thoughts of what could go wrong. There are times where you have to take control, put a warm smile on your face, go up to an individual or a group and introduce yourself. Getting the hardest part—the introductions—out of the way at the start of an event is a good habit to develop. Everything else will flow easier from there; just keep asking questions and show that you’re genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself into an ongoing conversation with a group of people. In fact, this is a great way for the newbie networker to get started. In a group, there won’t be as much pressure on any one person to keep the conversation going. If you don’t feel comfortable participating in a conversation right away, that’s okay, too. Listen carefully to the discussion until you can add something relevant.
I’m also going to let you in on a secret that will hopefully make all this easier: librarians are a genuinely warm and welcoming group. They are accommodating, helpful, and would love to meet you. Don’t consider it rude or intrusive to involve yourself in a group conversation.
One thing that I always make sure to have with me during an event is business cards. Impressive and useful, they make it easier for people to get in contact and for you to follow up with others. An effective tip is to write notes on the business cards received from others so it’s easier to remember them afterward. These notes could be about where you met the person, the conversation you had, where they work, or some other reminder; the possibilities are endless. They are very useful, especially when attending some of the larger conferences.
Following up is a critical part of networking and an essential part of making lasting connections. There are several ways to follow up with someone after a networking event, but the most commonly used are e-mail, social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and phone calls. My favorite method is Twitter, which is non-intrusive and allows me to keep a dialogue going, long after first meeting a person. Not everyone is on Twitter or other social media, and in these cases, a regular e-mail is great option, too. Check in occasionally and see how people are doing and what interesting projects they may be engaged in at work.
Above all remember that networking is not a one shot deal. It takes time to be effective, so stay with it and continue working on your communication skills.