What I’m Listening To: My two sons inventory their NERF bullets
What I’m Reading: Head Strong by Dave Aspery
What I’m Watching: Iron Man 2
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. In fact, Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of being of introverts is one of the most watched TEDs of all time. Introverts are amazing.
During my high school and undergraduate studies, I was a heavy introvert. I would have much rather spent time with a book and a video game than my friends and coworkers.
But we have all heard the adage that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Anyone who is familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s archetype of “The Connector” will suddenly have a strong incentive to an extrovert.
With the advent of the internet and continued proliferation of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other online learning opportunities, universities no longer have a monopoly on continued learning.
One of the most valuable skill sets that you will establish during college is how to network and work with a wide variety of people to accomplish similar goals.
In fact, I would argue that this is the most important thing you will learn during your college experience. And this skill should not stop when you put on the cap and gown.
I have heard complaints that professional networking feels disingenuous. The term ‘networking’ is sometimes considered synonymous with using a faux-connection to leverage yourself for a better position.
I cannot speak for other people, but I have never networked with the purpose of securing a better or different position. I network to get to know passionate people in the profession and learn the personalities and styles in the field.
So much of our happiness (and success) in a position has to do with the fit of the organization and the individual, so get to know personality types that you would be a good fit with. Any advancement for your professional career should be a byproduct of a genuine connection you had.
Now, I will not be naïve and act like there are not pragmatic reasons for networking as well. I will never forget the first time I had a position that I was genuinely interested in. I reached out a couple of mentors and a former colleague about the position and they spoke on my behalf to others in the organization.
The next week I had the traditional panel interview, and three of the four interviewers at the table had already heard (thankfully good!) things about me. My network gave me a distinct advantage over the competition for a job that I was truly interested in.
Networking is one of the most important functions of career development. These are by no means the only ways to network, but the following are three strategies that I have found to work extremely well for me:
Snowball Interviewees – No matter who you are, we all start with a small network. The trick is trying to figure out how to expand that network in a process that is meaningful and manageable.
I recommend the “Snowball method”: find one person to connect with, and at the end of the informational interview ask them what two people would recommend speaking to. After doing this a few times, you will see exponential growth in your network.
You will be pointed in the direction of a lot of people that are respected by their peers. Equally as important, you will be given candid advice on people you may not have much to learn from.
Get Involved Within the Profession – Assuming you enjoyed your time in the university, connect back with your alma mater as an alumnus and express interest in giving back.
I have been in the very fortunate to have been a Teaching Assistant at my alma mater for the past seven years, including three additional years since graduation. One of the most rewarding aspects of this position is watching people transition from students in your course to colleagues in the profession.
Additionally, reach out to your local or state associations and specific chapters. Express an interest in serving in leadership roles or becoming more involved. Organizations are always looking for talented, energetic and compassionate team members. You will gain as much as you give.
Don’t Be Afraid – It’s always nerve-racking putting yourself out there to new people and faces. Fears of rejection or being rebuffed are rampant, and not without merit.
But I can’t imagine a better profession of advocates and passionate people to work alongside. I am often astounded by the generosity of mentors and colleagues to meet up and just get to know each other. During your networking adventure, you will run the gamut of different outings.
I’ve had experiences from a completely formal informational interview to (ahem) excusing myself from a conference session to go to a bar and watch the morning NFL line up. Our working lives in the profession are so brief, and we are all so interconnected that there is no reason to be shy. Get out there and get to know your peers!
This world, and more importantly our profession, is a small one. A few years ago, I went to a state association meeting and it acted as the first professional networking opportunity that I had experienced.
When I walked into the room, I knew only one person in a conference attended by hundreds. I was intimidated and suffering from imposter syndrome, feeling like an outsider.
Flash forward two years later, and I can’t walk to the bathroom without running into someone I know.
At the last #ELGL18, I remember seeing a picture posted on Twitter (below) of the group from Arizona: @Mypublictweeter, @Cassiejoaz, and Megan Lynn.
In this picture alone was one person I graduated high school with and two that I graduated college with. Even in a group as varied as ELGL we are still all closely connected and that is something to admire about this organization.