What’s your take on the idea of networking to learn about careers or job leads? If you’re like a lot of college students or new college grads, the thought of networking makes you want to gag.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed a recent college graduate for an article I was writing on the post-graduation job hunt. I asked the student if she’d followed the popular recommendation to do some networking as part of her job search. I wasn’t prepared for her response: "When my friends and I sit around thinking about networking," she said, "we can’t stand the idea. It seems so cheesy, going around to people and begging for a job."
After our conversation ended, I reflected on my own ideas about networking, particularly during my college years and the years immediately after I graduated. As I recalled, my thoughts on networking at the time were quite similar to those of the student I had interviewed. To me, networking involved a bunch of people dressed in their power suits gathering at a luncheon or a brunch, shaking hands with their right hands and handing over their business cards with their left hands. It seemed like a, well, slimy sort of event, where people basically got together to pretend to be interested in each other when, in fact, they really just wanted to use each other. In other words, yuck!
Fortunately I was mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of "business card shuffle" meetings happening out there every day, and some people who participate in them are no doubt looking to get much more than they give. But networking doesn’t have to be this way, and in most cases it’s not.
In fact, there are many safe and non-cheesy but still very effective ways to network. And they involve people you already know.
You don’t have to begin your networking efforts by attending formal luncheons or by cold-calling strangers. Instead, start with the people who are already an important part of your life — people with whom you’re already comfortable. Here are some examples:
- Your Family. Oddly enough, we often don’t consider networking within our own families. Your parents know many people. Your uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents know many people as well. They’ve all been in the work world for a while, probably went to school with some interesting people and have friends you may not be aware of who work in the field you want to break into. Start tapping into you family’s easily accessible expertise.
- Professors and Other Campus Professionals. Most professors are well-connected in their fields, and many keep in touch with past students who are now in the working world. Similarly, campus career counselors and other student-services professionals (e.g., residence life staff, campus activities staff, academic advisers) tend to have many contacts, on and off campus. And don’t forget the administrative assistant in your academic department who often knows everything!
- Your Friends. Your best friend knows people, and his or her family members know people too. Your roommate’s mother has a sister who knows people. Your high school friend who is attending college clear across the other side of the country knows people. You get the idea.
- Other Trusted People in Your Life. In particular, talk to those whose line of work involves interaction with lots of people, such as your religious leader(s), your family doctor, your work-study boss or even the person who cuts your hair.
The suggestion to network is nothing more than a fancy way of saying, "Talk to people," and there’s no rule stating that the people whom you talk to must be strangers. So when it comes to networking, don’t worry about power suits, glitzy business cards, slimy handshakes and formal lunch meetings. None of that is necessary. Instead, go with those you know.