How to Network in Two Steps (Hint: It involves Beyoncé)
I been networkin’, I been networkin’.
No, not quite as infectious as Queen Bey’s jam, but it’s probably just as important as her amazing VMA performance. And also an accurate depiction of my post-grad life. Because, I have been networkin’, all day every day. And while the term “network” has become ubiquitous, it’s also hard to really define, and really really hard to execute.
“Networking,” according to Webster’s dictionary, is “interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.” Yes, Webster, my pal, essentially use people to climb the corporate ladder, right?
think know networking gets a bad rap amongst the “millennial” generation. We view it as something that’s a necessary but stressful. How can I network without “using” someone? What if I’m not good at talking to strangers? Do I just brag about my accomplishments and wish for the best?
But here’s the thing—“networking” as we call it, is simply relating to like-minded people and capitalizing on a human connection. It’s something our parents did without having a name for it, and without thinking twice.
I believe that as we are a tech-savvy/social-media-minded generation, we are overly aware of our self-image. We have a pre-occupation of appearing as selfish. We edit tweets and instagrams so they border that line of “my life is great” without being too great. We know that someone’s opinion of us can be determined by a single interaction, cyber or in person.
With that in mind, I think networking (essentially a presentation of yourself to a total stranger in the attempts to find a common ground and gain some career traction) reminds us of, well, ourselves. And for some paradoxical reason, that’s something we have a really hard time actually talking about. Tweets about Bey, sure. But self-reflection? Let’s be real, we’re not the best.
However, if you are passionate, driven and enthusiastic about life’s experiences, you have that “self image” down. You don’t have to worry about making a good impression while you network because attitude is contagious. When you are passionate about something, people are inspired to act. So if let’s say, you’re a journalism major speaking to a reporter at Channel 7, they’ll most likely want to help you. If you’re talking to your neighbor Karen about your wish to write for the Washington Post, she just might know someone who’s a section editor. And if she doesn’t, I guarantee she’ll remember you whenever she meets someone who does.
So, Step One: Be yourself and own your interests.
Step Two (I’m using Emily Raleigh‘s kickass term here): It’s all about the fearless ask.
All the meetings I’ve had the past few weeks have been from straight up asking friends and acquaintances if they know of anyone in journalism who could give me some advice. Key concept: I did not do this before we even got through the appetizers. I waited until I felt I had established a real connection with this person.
But eventually, when I felt that the time was right, I simply asked: “Is there anyone else in the field you suggest I speak with?” It’s not pushy; it shows determination. Also remember, people love helping other people! The mentor you are speaking with was helped by higher ups along the way, and now it’s their chance to give back.
My original point-of-contact gave me the names of two people, who I swiftly met with. They, in turn, each told me two more names, and you don’t need a flow chart to see where this is going. But it required me to fearlessly ask for these meetings (which your confidence and passion support), then show up and own myself, and lastly ask for the next piece of the puzzle.
This is where the word network comes into play. It’s building a web of mentors and experiences that shape your thoughts and progress. While it starts with some seemingly random strings, like a spider web, eventually something intricate and beautiful is created.
I have no doubt that one of these meetings will lead into something more. But networking is, as its name describes, work. It takes a lot of time and tenacity. However, I say we stop viewing it as “work” and more like Beyoncé-inspired “werk.” Because, it’s essentially: meeting inspirational people, learning so much from their wisdom, following your passion, and ultimately changing your life.
And what’s more #Flawless than that?