if only I’d known: sometimes it’s who you know
It’s who you know, not what you know.
I’d always assumed this saying was a sign of questionable morals and the people who uttered such things were the privileged amongst us who’d never known the true meaning of hard work. But the reality is your contacts and your networks can be a valuable part of your own success.
In the interest of full disclosure, I (seriously) suck at the whole networking thing but even a sucky networker has learnt a few things along the way. Namely that networking is a skill and one that needs to be practiced to be mastered.
Lucky for you (and me) we no longer live in a time where networking involves picking up an actual phone or sending letters by pigeon or sending a messenger on horseback. No these days email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a lunch date are about all you need to keep your networks thriving.
If you’re a regular reader of this column then you’ll remember (or not) that I hate crowds. I hate crowds mostly because in a confined space of 100+ people, at some point you’re expected to make small talk and small talk is something I don’t do well. I ask 12 variations of ‘how are you?’ all which result in the answer ‘fine thank you.’ Then when it’s my turn to answer questions I give them too much thought and resort to a philosophical response that’s neither appropriate to the situation nor entirely believable. I cave under pressure, slowly back out of the conversation and head for the hills. This is fine if you’re a freelancer and the only person affected by your sucky networking is you. It can be a little more problematic when a great deal of your professional life rests on your success as a networker.
If I’m honest (and I usually am) most of the jobs I got while at university were through people I knew – a friend of mine worked at a large tutoring company and knew they needed more English tutors and since I could read, write and loved English I was considered perfect for the job. My uncle’s friend was looking for a receptionist at the office he ran, I was polite, spoke clearly, knew the alphabet (for filing purposes) and landed myself a job just like that. Even my first ‘real’ job was attained through someone I’d previously worked for who knew I had the skills and what I didn’t know I was capable of learning on the job.
That time between finishing your university degree (or other qualification) and making the leap into fulltime employment in the real world can be a time defined by unemployment, or (sometimes more depressingly) employment in that job you’d thought was temporary but suddenly you’re working as many hours as your manager. This is when you begin to realize that utilizing your existing contacts is not about being too lazy or unqualified to get a ‘real job’, whatever that is, but a necessary edge in an already highly competitive job market.
Calling upon your networks is not a testament to your inability but a basic indication of your skills. When somebody an employer respects recommends you for a job, you still need to prove you’re capable and qualified, but it does give the employer confidence in their choice.
So here are some really basic networking tips I’ve learned over the years that might help you land your next work experience gig or maybe even a paid job:
1. Attend industry events and introduce yourself to people. It’s never too early to start getting to know people in your field.
2. Always be polite and professional but always be yourself. This helps you stand out among the many budding networkers who are also hoping to land their next gig.
3. If somebody gives you their business card, make contact with them soon after the meeting, thanking them for their time and reminding them of who you are. Follow up on anything they asked of you in a timely manner. Did they ask you to send through a resume? Did they offer the contact details of someone who might be helpful to you? Ask them about these things in your first email.
4. If you are going to meet them for coffee and a chat be clear in your own mind about what you’d like to get out of the meeting. Perhaps write a list of things you’d like to ask before you head out.
5. Adding people on any form of social media is a great way to keep on top of what they’re doing but it’s not exactly networking nor is it as fruitful as a face-to-face meeting.
6. Take some initiative. If you are going to meet about a potential job prospect, for example, do some research on the company/organization and prove that you really do want this opportunity.