Networking for novices

I’m helping a new college graduate right now to make connections that may lead to a job. She’s far more used to excelling at school assignments than making connections, so she asked me a basic question: what is networking and how does it work?

For those of us who’ve been in business for a while, this is second nature. But looking way, way back to the early part of my career — when my only experience was as a mathematics grad student — I have to admit the whole thing once mystified me as well. At the time it seemed somehow underhanded and slimy to be making connections for no specific reason — and it didn’t help that people in sales and marketing referred to it as “the art of the schmooze.” But having somehow made thousands of connections over the course of my career, I now see the value.

So if you are at the beginning of your career or are just not a very extroverted person, here’s a simple definition and some tips.

What is networking?

Networking is the art of understanding who people are and what they do, and helping people understand the same thing about you.

Everyone starts with a network. My young protegé has a few dozen people she knows and has shared classes with. Now it’s time to reconnect with some of those folks who are out in the working world.

Ask what they are doing: How do you like working at Xxxx? What’s the best part of it? Are there any things that drive you nuts? What else is going on in your life?

And tell them what you are doing: I’m still in the same town where we went to university, but I’d like to live in Xxxx. The thing that would get me excited would be to work on Xxxx.

Of course there is also the naked opportunism: Do you know anyone who is hiring for Xxx? But it’s a lot more important to understand of what people are doing, and leave them with an understanding of what’s going on with you. Even if they don’t have an opportunity to help you now, you want them to think of you when that opportunity comes across their radar screen.

A lot of the advice on networking focuses on increasing the size of your network, and of course, there are a lot of strategies for that — going to events, joining organizations, and the like. And that’s certainly a worthwhile activity.

But for novices, start with, “How are you, this is me.”

All it takes is a modicum of empathy. And that’s not slimy at all.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

One Comment

  1. More posts like this please! My incompetence at networking, more than anything, has held me back professionally. I’d love to overcome this handicap.