Like other recruiters, I am right in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year. I’ve just finished the two-week Career Fair Circuit with a couple more on the horizon in coming weeks. My schedule is chock full of classroom presentations and I am planning a Hiring Event to interview several people in a couple of days. In addition, last week consisted of a recruiting workshop with fellow recruiters. All of these events have something in common—they all provided (or will provide) great opportunities for networking.
So what’s the big deal with networking? Don’t think about status posts on Facebook. That kind of interaction might be part of the problem. We’ve gotten so comfortable talking to people in cyberspace that we’ve lost the ability to do so in person. On the other hand, some people have a limited view and think networking is only for those places labeled “networking event”.
I have no problem talking to people. In fact, nearly everyone in my family can strike up a conversation with perfect strangers (whether the strangers like it or not). But even for me there’s something…well, awkward about formal networking events. It feels like Skippy’s first day of school with his mom gently pushing on his back, saying, “Go on in and talk to the other kids.” It’s as if there is a drum roll and an announcement: “Let the networking begin!”. Often students gather with their peers, and employers, having been shut out of their cliques, wind up talking to…each other! So essentially all we’ve done is eat some great finger food (hopefully) and stay out later than we needed to on a school night.
I stumbled across this statement as I prepared to host such an event—(during our welcome we gave some tips to ensure success):
“Networking is less about meeting new people than having them remember you after the fact.”
Case in point. It was through networking that my local writing group was revived. A year and a half ago we were down to only two people due to some members relocating and others whose work schedules changed. While most people might have thrown in the towel, I knew if I did that the lack of accountability was sure to bring my writing to a screeching halt. I had to find some new members. Two of them came from a local writing conference where I chatted with fellow attendees. I sat next to another one when I visited another writing group. (I swear I didn’t go just to poach members.) And yet one more came when I purposely struck up a conversation with someone at our local Books By The Banks festival. I also invited a fellow university advisory board member and even a few people from work. Hey, I’m a recruiter by profession. Would you expect anything less? Now we have several regular attendees and the group lives on.
If I hadn’t been memorable in my conversation do you think anyone I invited would have actually shown up? Doubtful. How can you accomplish this? Think about the people you’ve met who you thought about long afterward. What stood out about them? For me, those people were personable, knowledgeable, accomplished, intelligent, humorous and yet, humble. Think about your most positive qualities and allow them to shine through to make a lasting impression.
Here are a few more benefits of networking:
- Build confidence. Think of networking as practice. The more comfortable you become speaking with new people when you have nothing to lose, the easier it will be to talk to others in your network–approaching your manager with a new idea or a co-worker to resolve an issue. You could even find yourself speaking to groups in informal or formal settings.
- New information. This is one way to learn what is going on in your industry. Who are the new competitors? What new products are out there? You could also gain knowledge that could help you on a personal basis. For instance, you could bump into a car enthusiast at a party right when you’re planning to buy a car.
- Connect with experts to support your efforts. You can’t possibly know everything about your profession. You don’t know every customer. You don’t know every future investor, but connecting with others can help you reach new consumers and, perhaps land your own personal shark (for all you Shark Tank fans) for an entrepreneurial venture. But please don’t think networking is only about you, as we’ll find out later in this series. I exchanged information with the recruiters I met last week so I can potentially support them by sending candidates their way.
- Teamwork is necessary for success–even if you work in a solitary role. The artist needs someone to sell his paintings, the musician needs someone to listen to his music. And we writers need people to read our books—and blogs. 🙂 Visibility and awareness are key to building your brand.
- Opportunities to give back. You might find out about local philanthropic opportunities or a cause where you can lend your expertise.
Bottom line, people need each other and networking is not just about finding a job. Now that we all agree you should be participating, come back next time to discuss where.