As a young millennial struggling to make my way in a new city, I've come to realize that who you are and who you know makes the difference between being "put on" or turned away from an opportunity.
I always knew that connections were important; but, what happens when you jump off the deep end and you know absolutely no one to help you land safely?
For many of us, this fear of not having a way "in" often dissuades us from venturing into something new. It even keeps us trapped in the environments we find most comfortable. We let our fear of failure cause us to get stuck in the places we think success is guaranteed...keeping us from reaching our full potential.
The thing is though...we're doing ourselves a massive disservice by letting ourselves stay stagnant. So, what do we do when we make that bold move but have no way "in"? How do we walk through a door, when we have no one to open it?
You build a network.
Easy enough in theory. But when you have no connections, how do you create some?
As we all enter the working world, at some point or another we've been told about the importance of having a network of people who can help you get where you want to go, offer sound advice, and make building our professional life a little easier. We have been taught to capitalize on certain relationships, because having the "right" ones tend to be more beneficial. We keep hearing what we should do or how important it is; but, we're never told how to meet the "right" people.
As we all know, it's extremely rare that you actually encounter that "right" person that will launch you into success; so, in order to get where we need to be, we have to improvise.
Get involved in groups that are related to your interests.
Sure, it may not be exactly a match; but, you may meet someone looking to break into your desired industry as well who can share insight, tips, or contacts.
Yes -- we all have bills to pay; but, in your spare time, volunteer with an organization or a group that is in the industry you want to get into. You will be able to show off your talents, enjoy your passion, and interact with more seasoned individuals who will hopefully help you carve out a path for success.
Once you find your environment, then you have to market yourself!
You may think "Oh, that part is easy ---- I've got this;" but, in all reality this is actually the hardest part -- especially if you're not a social butterfly.
After meeting the "right" people... what do you do? What do you say?
This past week, I realized how important this part of the puzzle is.
Typically, I'm not a very outgoing person. I like my space and I usually prefer not to be the center of attention. I don't enjoy small talk or schmoozing and I hate forced conversation; but, after being thrown full-force into a volunteer opportunity recently (told you -- volunteering works!) and having to navigate an environment with high-level business professionals, I realized that I had to learn how to network -- FAST.
I was invited to attend a conference --- which essentially meant I was thrown into the lion's den of networking. Before heading out, I was reminded to use the opportunity to -- of course -- network; but, it was actually A LOT harder than just being in the right place and meeting the right people.
You shake so many hands, give and accept so many cards, and get introduced to so many people (more than you have the energy to count), that at the end of the day, you're so physically and mentally exhausted, you barely remember anyone's name -- which is essentially pointless.
In all the chaos, you leave with nothing more than a blur of faces and zero opportunities.
Needless to say, by the end of day one, I was overwhelmed.
So, I decided to get intentional.
When faced with an excessive amount of people and limited time for interaction, I decided to make a judgement call. I just couldn't talk to every one; so, I cut down the number of people that I was meeting, and focused on making real, genuine, lasting connections. I decided it was more important to be memorable to a few people, than forgotten like most in the room.
Instead of surface level conversation, I engaged in conversation that mattered. I made sure to smile and laugh A LOT. I decided not to stick with the familiar people I arrived with, and instead paraded around rooms with people I wanted to get to know. I showcased my personality and they showed me theirs. In fact, the whole experience ended up being a whole lot of fun!
Yes, I left a huge conference with way less connections than others; but, I managed to make lasting impressions on the people I did get to know.
By the time I got home, I learned that networking is absolutely essential (especially if you're like me - new to an area with no local friends and looking for a career); but, building a strong network is more important. If you look at networking less as a means to an end, and focus on fostering genuine relationships with the people you meet, you will find that this is more beneficial than speeding through uncomfortable small talk with a butt load of people.
For me, I realized that the important part of networking isn't just "who you meet;" but, rather about how you build your relationship with them. You interact with people you never thought you'd talk to, and end up valuing them for who they are, rather than what they can do for you. Then, those REAL relationships you've built lead to doors being opened. You're relationship becomes beneficial because a solid foundation was established instead of simply networking just for networking's sake.
So, if you need to meet someone to get the ball rolling:
Use every interaction as an opportunity to network.
Be genuine- showing who you are with everyone you meet.
Find groups/opportunities in which you can interact with people with similar interests.
Show interest in people as individuals.
Building healthy relationships will always prove to be more beneficial than a nice suit, snazzy card, and a 2-second conversation people will likely forget.
P.S.------ You won't only end up developing great working relationships; but you'll also gain some pretty amazing new friends!