“Your NETWORK is your NETWORTH!”
I heard this saying when I started college and it stuck with me ever since. Most people don’t get a job just by filling out an application and handing in a resume. It’s all about who you know, who knows you, AND the connotation that they have about you. In other words, it’s about your reputation.
Expanding your network can lead to a plethora of opportunities. But many fail to realize that networking is about building relationships, not just having a bunch of contacts. You don’t want to be the person with 500 LinkedIn connections but no one willing to vouch for you.
It’s important to maintain the relationships that you’ve made and utilize every opportunity to expand your network. But building relationships take time. When someone refers you for an opportunity, they are putting their own reputation on the line. So it’s essential to build trust and rapport from the start.
Networking is much easier, and less intimidating, than many realize. Obviously attending networking events are a way to expand your professional circle, but there are other things that you can do, such as:
- Joining associations or organizations in your industry
From accounting to engineering, every industry has various professional organizations that you can get involved with to network and learn more about your trade. I work at MSLGROUP, a global public relations agency, so I joined organizations that are relevant to my industry, such as the Public Relations Society of America and ColorComm, an organization for women of color in communications. As a member I’ve gotten a chance to mingle with other communicators, learn more about my craft, and get exposure to different career paths and skillsets.
Being a member of an organization is an easy way to meet more like-minded people. Just be mindful of the costs of joining organizations – some of them cost a pretty penny! Look at these organizations as an investment, so don’t be a member just to put it on your resume. Get involved! The more you put into your membership, the more you’ll get out of it!
- Volunteering your services
The catch 22 with entry-level positions is that many companies expect candidates to have work experience, however it’s their first job. To combat that dilemma, volunteer your services while in college or when first starting out to build your network and portfolio. If you’re a graphic designer, partner with a local nonprofit and redesign their logo or organization brochure. If you’re a photographer, offer to take your mentor’s headshot to get more practice. Volunteering gives you much more creative leeway and it’s a double win for you – you’re adding value to someone in your network and building your portfolio.
When building relationships, it’s always a best practice to share how you can benefit someone else. If you can volunteer to help with something, or refer a stellar contact, you’ll be more valuable to your network. And in turn, people will want to help you when they can.
- Tap into your alumni network
Most people like to work with people that they have something in common with. When networking with those who came from your alma mater, you already have a similarity. Pick their brain and learn from their mistakes and experiences. So many alumni are eager to help grads from their university so reach out to them!
I interned in NYC the summer after graduating from college, and I met a few fellow Bison that helped me navigate my post-grad journey. By simply grabbing a drink at Starbucks or meeting up for happy hour, I got valuable advice from people who were once in my shoes and wanted to see their Howard family thrive.
Even after you graduated and started working, maintain a relationship with your professors and the people in your career center. Many of them have another life outside the classroom, so it’s beneficial to become apart of their circle.
- Be social
As a millennial, social media comes natural for us. Use your channels as a networking tool to learn more about your industry and connect with like-minded individuals. Make sure all of your social channels are professional (i.e. no hangover pictures, obscenities), but still showcase your personality. Post about your industry, culture and news, and participate in Twitter chats and other discussions where you can connect with others.
Keep your LinkedIn profile updated and use the site to connect with people in your industry or in fields that you want to learn more about – even if you don’t know them. Customize the LinkedIn request and let them know your interests. It’s a chance that they may not reply, but I’ve learned from experience that they more than likely will!
- Cultivate your relationships
If you take advantage of the opportunities listed above, you’ll likely meet tons of people in your industry but they won’t really be apart of your network unless you maintain those connections. You probably won’t make deep connections with everyone, so start off by being selective of the relationships that you put extra effort into maintaining. Here are a few things that I practice to cultivate the relationships that I made:
- Keep up with them: Treat your network like a professional circle of friends. Do they have a birthday coming up? Have they recently been in the news? Did they win an award or get a promotion? Show that you’re genuinely interested in them. LinkedIn and social media in general is a great source to keep track of others.
- Touch base with them at least three times a year. Keep the college mindset and shoot them an email during the spring, summer and fall semester.
- Send holiday cards or emails
- Update them on major milestones in your life (i.e. new job, graduation)
- Send articles that might be of interest
- Ask to volunteer on any projects their working on
- Create a spreadsheet of your contacts to keep track of their contact information and other details
Networking is the most valuable investment that you can make in your career, especially as a young professional. Get out there and start building relationships!