You’re already starting with a network of Alpha Phi alumnae, so use it—your sisters want to help. But there’s more to do. Networking is about building a community, and people who don’t learn to network are less likely to succeed. You might resist the idea of networking because sometimes it gets a bad rap as “knowing the right people” or “kissing up to the powerful.” It’s time to learn to embrace the best of it. Networking cannot substitute for good work done, but good work cannot substitute for networking either. You’ll have an easier time getting a job—or recognition for your accomplishments—if you keep up-to-date with the people in your community. When you nurture professional relationships and involve yourself in professional communities, you not only learn a variety of interesting points of view, but you will also become more comfortable in your subject knowledge because you’re constantly engaged in conversation with people you know.
In turn, those people you know can be your advocates and supporters. After all, don’t we like to get recommendations for restaurants or products? It works the same way with jobs and career advancement.
• Know your goals. Networking is important no matter what stage of your career you’re in. Whether it’s finding a new job, getting a promotion, being invited to a conferences, developing leadership skills, or simply filling your life with intelligent conversation, having a goal for your networking ventures can help get you there. When you know what you care about, you’re more likely to make it happen.
• Identify relevant people. This would be more of a targeted networking tactic, and it may seem calculated—it kind of is—but it helps keep you on track. Think of people (maybe start with three or four) who can assist you to reach your professional goals. Now, how can you find these people? Most of the methods are quite basic: Ask people who have worked in your industry for a while, attend social and/or professional events, and mention them in conversation—maybe someone knows them or knows someone who does.
• Communicate your goals with the right people. The point here is to develop relationships with people, and relationships are founded on commonalities. These commonalities might include shared values, shared interests, shared goals or anything else of a professional nature that you might share with someone. Now, practice explaining your goals with these people, so you’re prepared when you come in contact with them.
• Get involved. As part of your professional development, you should already belong to at least one professional organization. But don’t just stop at paying your dues: Volunteer to serve on a committee. This is a great way to meet others in your field in a non-threatening and collaborative way. Through your service, you will meet people to add to your network and be able to interact with them in a positive and natural way.
• Talk and listen. Networking isn’t just about telling your story; it’s about learning about others. Have your “elevator speech” down, then have a few questions in your back pocket to pull out to get other people talking: “What do you enjoy about your job?” “What are the challenges you face today?” or specific queries you feel are relevant to your industry.
• Remember the little guys. Don’t reserve your networking for bigwigs only. Everyone has a different network and probably different goals. You’ll probably meet people who are at the same career stage as you are, but they will continue to change and develop as well, and the bigger your network, the better.
• Follow up. Ask for business cards from people you talk to so you can contact them later to say thanks for chatting—and to make sure they know how to reach you too.