When I was in college at DePauw University, the intrepid folks at the career center often held information sessions on networking and building a resume. I dutifully ignored these opportunities until I was a senior. By that point, I’d racked up an honors GPA and plenty of internship experience, but the idea of networking instilled a positively irrational fear in me. At the time, I thought it must involve going up to strangers at parties and uncomfortably explaining why they should hire me (or, heaven forbid, doing this same thing by phone.)
Of course, networking can very well mean boldly putting yourself out there and interacting with people you don’t know, but more often than not it means talking to people you already know.
When I graduated from college I accepted a final internship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. I told my boss about how I hoped to find a job in Cincinnati. To my complete and utter surprise, she explained that she’d been talking to a man at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center about some best practices, and she’d ask him if he knew of any job openings. Lo and behold, this incredibly nice guy talked to me over the phone and sent me a list of a half dozen open positions and networking opportunities in Cincinnati. That led to four interviews and one job offer, which I accepted on the spot and where I proceeded to stay for the next 15 years.
My network still includes that former internship boss, the man who sent me the job openings and the man who offered me my first job (and just a few weeks ago emailed me with another job opening).
In the past couple of months, here are some ways I’ve made my network work for me:
1. Research for a client. A former colleague graciously gave me an hour of her time when I asked if I could pick her brain about some industry changes that are impacting a client at our marketing communications agency.
Maintain connections within your network by reaching out to people to gain their insights and expertise, not just to job hunt. It will keep those connections healthy for the time you need their help, and you’ll benefit from their wisdom on any number of subjects.
2. Seek job opportunities for friends. Another former colleague recently reached out to me to talk about my own job transitions over the years, and to see if I knew of any open positions that might be a fit for him. I was flattered to hear from him, and excited about the chance to help a friend find a job that might be a better fit. I’ve reached out proactively to my network to find out what’s open out there, and my friend has a few interviews lined up.
3. New business opportunities. Many of our clients at Rasor Marketing Communications have found us by word-of-mouth, referred to us (or us to them) by way of someone in one of our networks. It’s helped our company to grow quickly and steadily, and brought us a diverse array of clients whom many of us have worked with in some capacity or another over the years.
Make sure to flex your network muscles from time to time. And when you do, you’ll find your network will work for you.