While some shudder at the term “networking”, it holds more value than you think. Networking can be beneficial not just for yourself as a young woman, but also the people you engage with. There are many layers to networking: it ranges from having a spontaneous conversation with the person next to you on the bus to making a formal introduction to a company’s manager at a networking event. When we look at networking more as a collaboration where we make genuine connections, it does not seem all that daunting anymore.
Naturally, some gravitate towards networking with more ease than others. Nevertheless, networking is a skill that anyone is capable of mastering given we get enough practice (like many things in life). Aside from the more obvious reasons of why we should network—like finding a job or accelerating your career’s growth—building relationships with others is a great way for you as a young woman, a young professional, or a recent graduate to gather information, learn what other people have to offer, or simply broaden your mind. Keeping that in mind, networking is not solely a transactional activity. If you pursue authentic and meaningful interactions, you will experience more successful and sustainable networking efforts.
Who to contact?
There is a wide variety of approaches to networking in an efficient manner, but many agree that the best way to start is by reaching out to your dormant contacts—the people you already know, but maybe haven’t spoken to in a while. The foundation of familiarity and trust that already exists between you makes it easier to reach out and ask for their input, advice, and knowledge. Ask yourself before reaching out: what are my strengths, what do I have to offer, what skills have I gained from past experiences? Be sure to have a clear question in mind or topic to discuss before initiating that contact. Most experienced people have lots to share, so find out what you would like to learn about. Remember to consider what perspectives or insights you could share with them as well.
An important part of networking is establishing connections with people at all different levels. If you are a student, reach out to your professors or your school’s alumni. Doing so now allows you to build a solid foundation for your professional network that your future self will thank you for. If you are already a working professional, consider contacting professionals at all levels within your organization. Building relationships with people in different supervisory positions can maximally accelerate your career’s growth, since these people know when new opportunities arise, or they can refer you when you are ready to make a new move. Similarly, you can provide valuable on-the-ground feedback regarding their company’s culture or work performance.
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but attending events can really boost your personal and professional network. Consider making a schedule of events you can attend and attending them alone. Going to events by yourself allows you to socialize more easily without sticking to the same person the entire time. Make a list of contacts you met at these events and be sure to follow up with them afterwards. You could meet with them again, ask for advice, inquire whether they could put you in touch with someone in their own network, or offer your own support or assistance. Keep in mind that building, maintaining, and nurturing meaningful connections is more important than meeting as many people as possible. Quality over quantity is key, where you foster genuine and mutually beneficial relationships.
In the virtual realm, you can reach out to people on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for a more personal connection, or on professional platforms like LinkedIn. As you reach out, keep in mind to make your message more about the person you’re contacting than about yourself—make the person you want to network with the focus of your outreach. Generally, it is always better to ask the person for their permission before sending them any further information, as this creates agreement and shares control. Remember that your priority here is also to think about what you can do for the person you’re contacting, what perspective you have to offer, or what feedback you have to pass along.
Networking in different industries
Different industries have different expectations and norms for building networking relationships. Key is to research the industry you are aiming for before attending an event—this allows you to devise more effective questions and better work out your pitch. When choosing which events to attend, make sure to choose those that align with the values and goals of the industry you’re targeting. Every industry is different—some are more creative and intuitive; others are more analytical or formal. Remember to adapt your communication style to the industry you want to get involved in, as each has a different culture and quality.
Overcoming social anxieties
Approaching new people can be hard and uncomfortable for those plagued by social anxieties (I’m one of them, so I know what it’s like). Marissa King is a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and researcher of social networks, yet ironically, she detests networking. She devised simple yet effective tactics to overcome these sometimes-crippling fears. According to her research, people at events usually clump together in small groups of twos or threes. This idea of meeting small “islands” of people already feels more manageable than meeting an entire “ocean” of people. What King also suggests is approaching groups of uneven numbers—people often talk in twos, meaning there will be one individual not entirely immersed in the ongoing conversation and thus looking for a conversational partner.
What people often loathe most about networking is small talk—however, research has shown that people usually prefer meaningful conversation over the dreaded and forced rigidity of small talk. Try original questions like:
- What aspect of your current role do you enjoy most and why?
- What roles/experiences have led you to be in the industry/field you are in today?
- Have you always been interested in this industry/field?
You will see that taking a different approach to social or networking events will make conversations feel less scary or forced and you can end up really enjoying yourself.
It’s a human thing
In the end, we all network on a more regular basis than we think. Whether it’s meeting new people, making a new friend, building relationships that help you learn something about yourself or about the world—these activities are all a fundamental part of what it means to be human. The benefits to fostering mutually beneficial relationships are uncountable and can hugely increase your chances to achieve success in your career as well as your personal life. So don’t wait any longer and research, plan, execute! Start building your (professional) networks. There are so many people out there with creative and original ideas, thoughts, and perspectives who can’t wait to meet you and hear what you have to offer.
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