THE OLD RULE
Networking has always been considered a part of any strong action plan to get a new job or stay updated and valuable in your career. But it used to be an awkward affair, limited to organised job fairs, industry conferences, alumni events and other formalised get-togethers where you were invited and expected to shamelessly self-promote – something many of us don’t enjoy doing.
THE NEW RULE
Although some of the old rules on how to build a relationship with someone remain viable, networking has become much more nuanced, common, and expected due to social media; it’s no longer reserved primarily for the conference circuit or big industry events. From casual email or Twitter interactions to coffee dates and informational interviews to joining Facebook groups, you need to learn the New Rules for how to expertly build and manage a network – both online and off. The great thing about networking in our Golden Age of social media is that it allows you to not only activate but amplify your personal brand on a scale that simply wasn’t possible just ten years ago. We know networking can be intimidating and sometimes feels like one more thing to jam into an already hectic schedule. Plus, if you’re moving into a new field where you don’t know a lot of people, it can be daunting.
Here’s what networking is not: It’s not about meeting people who can get you a job today or tomorrow. It’s not about instant gratification. And it’s not something you do only when you need something. Networking is about meeting interesting people (anywhere – not just at events you dread attending, and all the time – not just when you are job searching) who could turn into long-term friends, contacts or colleagues: These relationships could be the ticket to getting your foot in the door at a new company, introducing you to a future mentor or potential client, solving problems at work, and so much more. But this won’t happen overnight. Like any worthwhile relationships, these require commitment and nurturing over time. People are not too inclined to jump through hoops for someone they haven’t heard from in ages and who is clearly only reaching out because they need something. Case in point: ever get one of those “it would be great to catch up” emails out of the blue, followed promptly by the real request? (Could they be more obvious?) The best network-building relationships are ongoing – they don’t just surface when it’s time for a favour.
BUILDING YOUR NETWORK
If you are just starting your career, actively looking for a new job, or transitioning to a completely different field, there are no two ways about it: you’re going to have to meet new people. There are plenty of ways to do this, but we’ll start with one of the most common: events. Whether it’s alumni mixers, conferences, meet-ups, or industry happy hours, it pays to go to functions where you’ll have access to a large number and wide variety of people. That said, you have to do more than just show up and stand in the corner eating the free cheese. You have to be strategic about really using the time to make a connection with – and hopefully, leave a lasting (good) impression on – the people you most want to meet.
HAVE YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH READY
A networking event can feel like the Wild West if you go in without a game plan. The more prep you do, the more successful (and comfortable) you will be. The key to being prepared in these kinds of scenarios is having talking points up your sleeve. Most importantly, when someone asks you what you do, you should be ready to confidently tell your story, in 30-60 seconds. This “elevator pitch” – a concise, easy-to-understand snapshot of who you are – should feel natural, not forced.
Meg Walker studied journalism in the U.S., got her first magazine job 20 years ago and has since worked in both contract and commercial publishing in the U.S., Ireland and abroad.