Networking. One of the most dreaded words for an undergraduate student. We hear this term used constantly from our very first class as a freshman. What exactly do people mean when they talk about networking? Why is networking so important? Hopefully, I can answer a few of these questions and help you change the way you think about networking.
Unfortunately, the word networking sometimes has a negative connotation. But networking is not a bad thing. Networking is defined in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as: “The cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”
After doing some research and starting to build my own network, I have found that networking is not and should not be manipulative or selfish. Networking is about building genuine connections with people based on mutual desires and interests. That is it. Networking does not need to be this big, daunting, arduous task. Networking can be as simple as talking to people about themselves and the things they like.
If you’re worried about inconveniencing people, don’t be! In an article from Harvard about networking, it says, “Building a network doesn’t come naturally to everyone. People often rationalize why they don’t need to (or can’t) build their professional network as they explore career options, search for a job, or develop their careers. One of the most common misperceptions holding people back is: Why would they want to talk with ME? I’d probably be wasting their time!”
Imagine, for a moment, the future. You are a professional in your field, and an undergraduate student approaches you and asks you about your career and the steps you took to accomplish what you have accomplished. Are you going to look down on that student? Are you going to avoid talking to them because they are asking about you and your career path? Of course not! Many, if not most, professionals want to help students because they started exactly where you are.
I know that building a network can seem daunting and frightening. I feel that way sometimes too. It will be easier if you start now and start small. Engage people about their interests, and don’t be afraid to reciprocate with things that interest you. Making friends is a great way to start your network.
Networking can really be as simple as opening up about yourself in a conversation. If you create genuine relationships, networking can come much more naturally, as well as helping you create lasting friendships.
To recap, here are some tips for starting to build your network:
Be friendly. It really can be that easy. By being friendly and learning how to communicate with people, you will be more comfortable with them when you want to talk about business.
Start now! It’s never too early to start building your network.
Be open about yourself. Let people know about your interests and learn about other people’s interests. You never know when an opportunity might come because you were willing to share about yourself.
Learn how to start a conversation. While communicating may be uncomfortable for you now, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will be. Start small with people you know, then as you practice and get more comfortable, you can move on to other, more daunting conversations.
Networking can provide great opportunities if you are willing to be a little bit vulnerable and put yourself out there. If you aren’t comfortable networking, you can practice with your friends and other people that you trust. Don’t be afraid to start small. I know that you can do it.
Written by Annie Petersen.