Networking is about relationships, reaching out

As college students, thinking in the long-term is a thought that generally is procrastinated upon and pushed to the dark corners of the mind. It seems as though there’s the time in the world before having to think about leaving the glory days of college and living in the “real” world. However, college flies by faster than one thinks.

During such difficult economic times finding jobs has become increasingly competitive with more and more college graduates and less and less available positions. One way to stand out from the sea of recently-graduated students is to network.

“Networking is about developing relationships with people that have something to offer you and you have something to offer them,” said Jason Houze, a recent College of Media graduate. “It’s a lot of back and forth collaborative work, usually around one thing that you’re both interested in.”

A common misconception with networking is that it’s merely name collecting, that knowing as many names as possible is all you need to succeed professionally. However, networking takes a little more effort than just walking away with a stack of business cards.

“Networking is basically being friends,” said Ben Brownback, University alumnus and CEO of DAV Productions. “I can’t put it in a better way than that. You’ve been doing these things since you were in 1st grade, kindergarten and grade school. There’s things you do to interact with other people. Networking used to be going to mixers and mingling and giving out business cards, and in a lot of ways, it still is, but it’s different now in this day and age.”

The difference is that the relationship is the point of focus rather than collecting names.

“Networking is really about relationship building and that’s a process that has to happen over time,” said Kathryn Flint, assistant director at the Career Center. “Networking is a means to get your foot in the door to get internships or jobs, and it’s important to start early to let the relationship grow and flourish.”

Because networking is more focused on the relationship, it goes both ways. Both parties should be able to offer the other something of worth. However, because each party can offer something, it doesn’t mean that creating these relationships guarantees an automatic job offer.

“The most important thing about networking is that you don’t expect anything in return,” Brownback said. “You’ve probably gone to mixers or met people where you can tell when someone is only talking to you because they want something from you. I think that’s one of the things you pick up the more you learn how to network, how to not expect anything from anyone and just network for the sheer need to network.”

While networking is important and central in the job search, the skills necessary for effective connections are not always innate.

“No one’s got networking down to a science,” Brownback said. “You can always learn something about networking.”

The most important thing that students can do to start honing in their networking skills is to not limit themselves in opportunities, Houze said. It is essential that students meet as many people as they can ­­— join as many clubs as they can, and attend as many events as they can.

“Some of the best people that I’ve met in terms of helping me with my career were ones I didn’t meet at a networking event or a forum that was supposed to be networking,” Houze said.

Houze mentioned to his haircutter that he was looking for a job in advertising, and it just so happened that his brother worked at an advertising agency in Chicago.

“It’s just a small world. So, don’t limit your opportunities on where they look for networking and keep an open mind that anybody can help you on a career search.”

These relationships are important to keep up with, especially if the relationship has nothing to offer to either party, because it has the potential to be beneficial down the road.

“You never really know where these networking opportunities will end up, and that’s the cool part about networking,” said Brownback. “If you throw yourself out there, you meet new people, you make a connection with someone, and then you don’t know where it goes.”

After making the first initial contact and creating a connection, it’s important to follow up that connection in a timely and organized fashion.

“Make sure you follow up via email or make a phone call,” said Shane Carlin, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs Advancement. “And not texting, but actually sending them a professional email saying, ‘It was great meeting you’ and doing it within 24 hours. Because the sooner that you can do that, then the memory is still high with that other person.”

For those who are more shy, networking will prove to be more of a challenge — but all it takes is a little practice.

“Practice helps,” Flint said.

“Go to an RSO meeting and challenge yourself to talk to one new person you haven’t ever talked to before. It’s a little less threatening in these situations in terms of talking to professionals. But you get more comfortable talking to strangers or people that you don’t know.”

While networking and approaching complete strangers seems like an intimidating task, even for the most confident of us, it’s useful to set small goals for oneself. Pushing yourself to talk to one new person this week or joining a new club are small ways one can improve networking skills.

“Anyone you meet can be your next contact,” Carlin said. “You never know. So I would say that you always want to be on your game. From the time that you leave your room…you need to know that you may meet someone that could be a connection for you.”