If you explore the Ohai blog, you’re sure to find many articles stressing the importance of networking. For any young professional, networking is as important as breathing and eating – it can make all the difference between getting stuck in the same position and climbing the corporate ladder at full velocity. Making strong and meaningful connections with people means more work opportunities!
Networking is an activity that grows easier with time. At different stages of your career, you’ll face different networking challenges. As you progress from intern to fresher, mid level manager to CXO, the kind of people you’ll network with and the kind of conversations you’ll have will evolve drastically. This post will focus primarily on how to network in the early stages of your career – i.e. throughout your 20s.
Interning or working on your first job? Chances are, you think of networking as a pointless activity. At this age, many feel that business networking is limited to middle-aged people in suits, holding drinks and walking around in fancy hotels. This is not at all true. In fact, the earlier you actively start building connections, the better it is for you.
Some of us, being introverts, limit ourselves to a small inner circle of close friends and family. I did this myself and honestly, I regret it to this day. The few school and college friends that I’ve kept in touch with have been the greatest connections in my life – now imagine if I’d made an attempt to talk to a larger set of people, earlier on. It would’ve surely reduced the effort needed to get a job, to meet new people that I could have collaborated with, and a whole lot more.
I know a guy who got his first job as a caddy at a golf course. He was an engineer, with no interest in golfing. He took up that job to meet wealthy and influential people who would come there every weekend to relax. It wasn’t long before he found the right employer, who gave him an awesome job that wasn’t listed anywhere! Not just this, the people who visited the golf course would tip him several hundred dollars at a time, so he managed to pay back his college loans pretty fast.
That’s a big issue with the job market – about four-fifths of it is informal, i.e. 80% of jobs are not listed on any public channel. Employers prefer to hire new employees through referrals from existing employees – which makes networking all the more important!
What kind of people make for a great network? People who are already better connected, of course.
(i) people who are in later stages of their career
(ii) people who were lucky enough to be connected to affluent individuals from birth
School and college professors make for great advisors. They also tend to be superbly well-connected. The Direct Marketing professor who taught me in my final year at university was actually pals with several marketing VPs working at MNCs. This was because he had helped organize marketing events at which these VPs had spoken on stage. I’ve made great connections because I’ve kept in touch with this professor.
Other people you shouldn’t lose contact with are school friends, college friends and even parents of friends. Networking is never a waste of time. Grab every opportunity to meet up with an old friend or colleague – they’re always full of surprises. Don’t ignore someone’s request for a coffee under the assumption that they might be of no use – every human being is of some value. Even the most boring classmates could end up working at great jobs! By getting in touch with them in, you’re also getting closer to all the people on their network.
A final tip for all youth eager to network: Dressing up matters more than you think! Many youngsters have a strong belief that as long as they can hold a great conversation, it doesn’t matter what they wear. The unfortunate truth is that people tend to judge you by your appearance, no matter how intelligent and accomplished you are. As psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert says, when all else is equal, the better dressed candidate gets the job.
The upside of this is that if you learn how to dress really well (even on a small budget), it becomes a whole lot easier to network with practically anyone. Wear a blazer to work meetings and people will take you more seriously. Pitch your product while wearing a sharp suit and tie – pretty much everyone’s going to show interest!
All the best to every young networker out there! What other professional networking tips do you have? Do share them with me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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