mingling 2

Networking

One thing I have learned recently is that the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is so incredibly true.  For the most part, I am what you would call a people person.  I relate easily to those different than me, working to see the viewpoints of others and talk with them to get a better understanding for what they think and why they think it.  It’s a rare occasion when I can sit in a room and have no luck at talking to someone and making friends relatively quickly.  This ability has allowed me to be fairly good at networking.

Networking is something that I truly believe should be taught as a required course for any and every degree program.  There is not a field in the world where you can’t benefit by making contacts with other colleagues and thinkers in your area of expertise.  In interest of full-disclosure, I did get some training on the art of networking while in college.  I belonged to a Professional Business Fraternity and along with the parties and social activities, there were actual professional events.  We worked on mingling, interviewing, resumes, writing, managing contacts and other tools that would help progress our careers once we donned the caps and gowns and said goodbye to college.  In the Fraternity, I learned how to network amongst my Fraternity brothers, college faculty, friends, friends of friends and strangers I just met.  The world is so connected in all forms and fashions, from personal relationships, professional relationships, charity relationships, the people you know that may be connected to someone you want to know is astounding.

Today there are more options for understanding the value and extent of your network, especially through tools like Facebook and LinkedIn.  Both of these websites offer you the ability to look up someone that you would like to know and map out your degrees of separation and how you could get into contact with that person.  Facebook is more limited in your ability to find someone not in your network, although once located you are free to contact them out of the blue.  If you don’t have direct, mutual contacts with said person, you will be unable to understand how your contacts may know that persons contacts.  This is where LinkedIn provides more of an insight as a networking tool.  LinkedIn provides you with you with a map determining if you are directly connected to that person, one-degree away, two-degrees away, etc.  You also have the option of sending a note to that person or requesting a mutual contact introduce you through the site.

A mistake of mine in high school and college, was not utilizing and taking advantage of the opportunities to expand my network.  On a college campus, for example, there are interest meetings and regularly scheduled meetings in almost every building you can get into.  It’s such an easy time to try new things and meet new people.  Why not go to that meeting for “Students for the Preservation of Jellyfish.”  You may not get anything out of the meeting, or you may meet your best friend for the rest of your life.  Speaking from my own experience, I had siloed myself into what I thought I wanted to do and didn’t take advantage of the wide-variety of people that were present throughout my 20,000+ University.

With the idea of why networking is important, the skill of how to network is just as important.  In a perfect world, this is where a class on networking would come in handy.  Networking needs to be practiced, just like any other skill in your professional repertoire.  Just like a public speaking course, there are those of us out there that just aren’t good at speaking with new people.  Teach students how to make small talk, ask for a business card, follow-up with people, oh, and how not to get drunk on the open bar.  Don’t let an inability to network prevent you from making the contact that is going to get you your next job, car deal, inside information on a nice beach house rental, etc.

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