Whether you’re on the road as a leadership consultant, traveling for a conference, just for fun, or even still in your own hometown, the opportunities for networking are abundant. Hard work and perseverance are always important factors in success, but networking to get a foot in the door is equally as important. Having a network of people who are willing to vouch for you or give you the inside scoop on the industry can be a major step up when starting the process of searching for a job, applying to graduate school, or any other new endeavors. Here are some tips for networking that I’ve picked up on the road.
- Use your resources to build your network.
This could come in many different forms. A college student may get to know certain faculty members or attend a university-hosted networking event; some universities continue to offer career services to alumni. Any community member could go attend a career fair or use LinkedIn just to get that initial connection to build upon. If you’re traveling, interact with some new people. That random person next to you on the plane could be an excellent resource, but you’ll never know if you don’t chat. If you’re traveling to a conference, absolutely connect with those people and take time to make plans outside of the conference itself. As a sorority or fraternity member, it could come as spending time with your advisors and alumni. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in political science and I met an advisor on the road who works for Homeland security! She will be someone I can definitely keep in touch with as I try to decide if government work is right for me. Interesting connections are right within your grasp if you just reach out to them.
- Always be polite and friendly.
This is just general life advice. You never know who is around you so it is important to always put your best version of yourself out there. A bit of courtesy goes a long way and building a positive reputation for yourself will pay off in the end.
- Spend time with others already in your field.
During our training, the Sigma Kappa leadership consultant team attended the Fraternity Executives Association (FEA) Field Staff Conference. It was incredibly helpful getting advice from experienced travelers and meeting people who are going to be near us throughout the year. While on the road recently, I was lucky enough to meet up with a few consultants from other sororities. It was empowering being with other women who share the same goals and mission. We had a fun time talking about life, work, and the future. Being constantly immersed in the job can be stressful and spending time with others who understand the lifestyle was encouraging and an excellent way to decompress. This kind of networking was immediately beneficial mentally and I hope we can keep in touch in the future.
These experiences are important for a few reasons. First, everyone is trying to create positive reputations for ourselves in a field that is very small and connected. If we choose to stay in this field, people will know we would be good to work with, which is definitely a win. Second, we can continue to rely on each other throughout this journey. I will absolutely try to spend time with other consultants in Oregon because I have no connections there yet; it will be comforting to be with others in the same situation and make friends outside of work. Third, in this day and age, it is uncommon for people to stay in one career their whole lives; as consultants, we know this will be our job for only a year or two. Who knows where we’ll be in five years? Or ten or 20 years? Maybe they’ll have a job that I’m interested in or maybe I’ll know someone in the new city they’re moving to. No matter where we end up, there is now a positive connection. These connections are easier to make because you already have common ground in your current field and can build upon that.
- Get past the business talk and focus on making a real connection.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote is generally a good life motto, but I think it specifically applies to networking because speaks to our need for genuine human connections. If you try to network just by talking about business or overtly trying to sell yourself, the person you are speaking to will quickly see you only care about what they can offer you. Bring up that you are interested in whatever they do, but also ask them questions about themselves and their personal journey. Use your time wisely and think of intentional questions you can ask in advance. You will learn a lot and they will feel you are interested in not only the opportunity but also in them as a person. They may forget the details of your conversation, but they will remember that you are a genuine person with ambition in their industry.
- Keep trying!
Networking isn’t always easy or natural for everyone but, if you prepare, it can be a smoother process. It comes easiest to me when I show a real interest in others and just try to foster a relationship; after a relationship is built, I feel more comfortable inquiring about career paths and advice. However, I’m still working on the quicker situations and giving out business cards. Sometimes nothing will result from a connection and that is OK, too. The next time could be your big break. Whatever your comfort level with networking, don’t underestimate its importance and continue to put yourself out there and do your best.