The old adage “C’s get degrees” may seem like a line straight out of the slacker’s handbook, but there is some truth to the idea that grades AREN’T the most important part of succeeding as a developing professional. Programs such as Project Grow aim to instill the importance of professional development in female college students, and networking is a vital building block for anyone’s career. In fact, there are a variety of reasons why networking is important, including the fact that up to 80% of jobs are never posted and instead rely on word of mouth. Still, the steps to building a personal and professional network can seem daunting and unclear, and sanctioned networking events and mixers can add a lot of pressure. Here are a few casual yet effective ways you can build your network and make positive steps toward building your career.
It may sound vague, but coming to terms with what YOU bring to the table is an important lesson in self-worth and networking. You may be surprised by the connections you’ve made without even realizing it. This can be as simple as having worked in the food industry and having a coworker mention that their niece is looking for an after school gig. Or, perhaps the company you interned for in college is seeking employees and you have a friend that would be just the right person for the job. Networking is all about sustaining connections, and building a good rapport with those around you is critical in having a successful group of people that can advocate for you when the time comes.
It’s a tiny fractal of business etiquette that often goes unnoticed, but even in the casual sphere of networking, taking the initiative to follow up with an individual demonstrates thoughtfulness and respect, and the small risk of sending an email could reap the large reward of making a new connection. Additionally, it’s never a bad idea to express your sincere appreciation for one’s time and delightful conversation.
Again, this is such a simple component to building relationships, but it is definitely worth mentioning. While there should be a tactful balance between remaining professional and expressing excitement, honing in on this balance is an excellent way to stand out. Furthermore, if you don’t find yourself in a setting conducive to building relationships, this strength will enable you to make the most out of whatever climate you’re in.
If you’re a college student, you may be blissfully unaware of just easy it is to expand your network while you’re in school. While extracurriculars may seem like a no-brainer way to connect with your peers, building a rapport with classmates is the easiest way to not only make friends and connections but also have a means of accountability toward your classwork. An easy icebreaker can be something like “why did you decide to take this class?” because you aren’t simply pulling the “what is your major?” card. It’s a low pressure question, and you’d be surprised how receptive people can be. After all, class is SO much better when you have people to interact with and engage with the content, and this can help you develop a better understanding of your course material as well. If this feels out of your comfort zone or you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself, just think of it this way- you may never see these people ever again! Choosing to build connections is purely for your benefit and fostering these relationships is totally up to you.
It may sound contradictory to stress the importance of networking and then tell you not to stress, but following the fourth point, it’s okay to not be everyone’s best friend. In fact, you are bound to come across people in your career path that you don’t connect with, and that’s okay! Yes, forming relationships is important but it should never come at the cost of your authenticity. If you feel yourself constantly trying to form a connection, you may be losing some of your personal integrity in the process. Staying in alignment with your values is the best way to attract people that share those similar ideas as you. Furthermore, while LinkedIn may have you convinced that quantity matters over quality, this isn’t necessarily the case. Refine what it is that you want in a friend, connection or potential employer and think about how this will provide long term benefit. Networking may be stressful at times, but as long as you stay focused and considerate of yourself and others you’ll find that your people skills are a huge component of your personal and professional success.