In one of the few examples I have of a Facebook debate turning into something good, I was complaining about the vagueness of a trending (Okay, LinkedIn trending, at least. Is that a thing?)blog post on networking. It promised specifics but didn't give any. After taking me to task as a be-suspendered curmudgeon for sharing something to social media I was only going to complain about, she wrote a few comments on how she saw networking. They were great! I asked her to write it up for me to put on this blog. I got this in my email.
I've asked her to do a Part 2 for recent college graduates, so stay tuned!
by Tracy Fossum
We all know what networking is.
It’s an ill-fitting business suit paired with shoes that have turned your foot into one big blister. It’s standing by yourself in the middle of a room, nervously stirring your diet tonic (sans vodka or gin) with those ridiculously skinny bar straws. It’s you surrounded by loud Baby Boomer/Gen X salespeople who have done so much glad-handing that their fingers are swollen. It’s you trying so, so hard to collect business cards, knowing full well that you will never, ever contact any of these people – ever.
It’s you, alone, in the car, head on the steering wheel, choking back tears, wondering how you found yourself in this position, and looking into the black void that feels like your future.
Networking is NOT that.
Networking is you being you and looking for authentic ways to show up in the world to create connections that lead to opportunities.
Let’s agree on the following axioms:
1. You are brilliant.
2. You have at least one thing to offer the world that no one else has.
3. You have at least one connection to one other human being on the planet – no matter how tangential it might be.
While we’re at it, let’s agree on this:
1. People will not pound down your door to bask in your brilliance.
2. People won’t know what you can offer unless you tell them.
3. That one human being you know also knows people.
Hey, we’re on a roll – let’s take this idea for a spin:
***You’re networking (being real) every damn day. Just up your game. ***
1. Get out of your dorm room and attend an event on campus that interests you: department guest speaker book signing, bonfire, theater production, underwater basket weaving demonstration. Whatever. If you go to something YOU like, assume other attendees are there because THEY like it too. You have an instant connection and natural reason to talk to someone at the event and afterwards. (Think casual conversation at the dining hall about what you liked and didn’t like about your shared experience.)
2. Join a club or sport. I know a girl who is joining the badminton team even though she doesn’t know how to play badminton. It looks interesting and fun and she wants to get to know different people outside her circle. It doesn’t have to be varsity football, maybe just IM Ultimate.
3. TALK TO ALUMNI! GO TO ALUMNI EVENTS! I can’t stress this enough. They’re just like you – just older. These are the real people in the real world who have spent years in their careers. They want to help students and recent grads from their alma mater find internships, jobs, connections, etc. It gives their degree more street cred if they can demonstrate to their peers that their school turns out high-quality graduates. I know that sounds dumb. But it’s not. Trust me. I’ve seen it. Anyway, our career center is turning away alumni volunteers because not enough students are asking for help. Don’t be stupid and ignore people who are begging to help you. Asking for help is being real. As a corollary, if your school has a robust reunion program and is looking for student/recent grad employees to help, APPLY! The alumni will see you at your best: helpful, attentive, energetic, fun, and hard-working. These are the qualities that someone wants from members of their professional team. And you don’t have to do anything but be the real you.
4. Social media. I’m sorry, but old people with jobs to offer actually do use LinkedIn. A lot. You have to be on it -so just get over it. Use a profile picture that looks at least semi-professional. No one wants to see you at a kegger. Even a well-done selfie would do the trick. (But don’t purse your lips or tilt your head like Kim Kardashian. That’s just lame.) As far as the rest of the profile, I’m assuming you did something to get into college. Distill those activities into something tangible. No one will care if you just say you were president of the Drama Club. Who cares? However, they WILL care if you helped plan an event, ran cabinet meetings, and worked as a liaison between the club and the overarching student body association to secure funds for materials for productions. See what I mean? Show that you’re relevant. You’re still being real because you really do have those skill and talents.
5. More social media. For God’s sake, if you’re entering the job market, clean up your Facebook page. People you’re connecting with check you out after they’ve talked to you. No nekked pictures. No partisan reposts from Russian bots. Clean up the language. Presenting the best version of you isn’t selling out – it’s growing up, which is something you really, really have to do.
6. More e-advice. If your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, change it right now. Picture that at the top of a resume or giving it out to a potential contact. Then picture yourself never being taken seriously. Then picture yourself unemployed forever. There’s nothing wrong with email@example.com. That’s your real name. Use it.
7. Volunteer and be active in the community. Your college is located in a town. Go be a part of it. There are students at this campus (which is on Second Street) who have never been to the local coffee shop on Third Street. What a wasted opportunity. That coffee shop is where EVERYONE in town goes. Every flier for every activity in town is posted on the walls. Why wouldn’t you go there? And how hard is it to drink latte and read the Times? If you’re there frequently enough, you’ll get to know the proprietor on a first-name basis. And remember, she knows EVERYBODY. Volunteer at a local Habitat for Humanity build site. Be a mentor. Do some community theater. Lead tours at the local Historical Society museum. This is all you showing up in the world.
And it’s all networking. Better yet, it’s being real. We’re social animals and when we authentically and meaningfully forge new connections, we feel good. Also remember that this isn’t a one-sided transaction. You’re giving as much as you’re getting. For instance, you might find yourself chatting with someone who has always wanted to talk to your roommate’s dad about his landscaping business. Hallelujah! You just networked!
I know that sometimes being the real you is a little scary. You might not even know quite who the real you is. It’s OK. We’re all just sort of flailing around on this planet. But it’s fun being present in it. So take a chance, stretch out your hand and I think you’ll find another hand waiting for you…
|Photo by: |
Tami Enfield, Brand Yourself Consulting.
About Tracy Fossum:
Tracy has had a varied career, spanning 20 years and two continents, with a majority of it spent in higher ed fundraising and financial services. She has recently plunged into books, and spends her days nose-deep in texts, helping students find their purpose in life, keeping faculty happy, and listening to alumni reminisce. When she's not giving unsolicited, brilliant advice, she is being real as a wife, mother, and all-around upstanding citizen in her idyllic Midwestern hometown.