According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of networking is…
net*work*ing – n.: the exchange of information or service among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business
In other words, if you talk to people, then you already have a network. And while many design students think they are at a disadvantage if they don’t know hundreds of design-related professionals, that is simply not true.
Build Upon What You Have
Your network has to start somewhere. Your family, your friends, your classmates, your dentist, your child care professionals, old high school friends…the people you connect with on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis are part of your network.
I was first introduced to the world of design because I had a childhood friend with an architect father and another friend with a mother who went back to school to be an interior designer. My industry network was beginning before I even knew it, and I later worked with my friend’s mom!
Until you start talking to the people in your life about your life and your professional goals, you will never know whom they know and whom their friends’ friends know. Every good network begins at home, at school and at work.
Give And Take
Networking is about learning, sharing and growing. And networking is not just “all about you.” It is a give and take process that hopefully begins with connections and grows into many long-lasting relationships. In many cases, these relationships evolve into great friendships.
The more you listen to and support the people in your network, the more value they will see in you and the more they will want to help you in return. Whatever is your area of interest, specialty, or passion, your network will know they can come to you for help and that builds value…that strengthens your relationship.
If you are thinking that you don’t have anything to offer – STOP! – we all have something to offer. Again, this is a moment when many design students think of this value only in terms of their design knowledge and experience. While your professional goals and your reason for networking may be focused on design, your passion for cooking, fitness, singing, children, or a million other things could be the thread that creates value and makes you a good resource in someone’s network.
If I need the name of a great local restaurant to try, I know whom to contact in my network. If I need help with social media, then I go to someone else. If I want fashion advice, I have some people for that too. Finances” Check. Real estate” Check. Likewise, people contact me for specific reasons or resources.
Take a minute and think about what you bring to the table.
Introverts Are Good At Networking Too
We can’t all be outgoing, bubbly people who will talk to anyone. That is okay. Extroverts are not the only people who can be successful connectors. In fact, some people are overwhelmed by outgoing personalities.
Good networks are all about variety. And networking can start with simple, quiet interactions with people you know and trust – people who will help you meet new people in settings where you are comfortable.
So, if you are an introvert – no excuses. You can network too. Ask your friends and family to help. If you do, then you have just started networking.
Good Days And Bad Days
Whether an introvert or extrovert, we all have days when we just don’t feel up to it. Networking takes energy. And if you are having a bad day, then it may not be the right day to go to that big event you were signed up for. That is okay unless you talk yourself out of those events every time.
I can tell you that a few of the times when my inner voice was battling “to go or not to go” and I pushed myself to go – you only have to stay for a few minutes – were some of the most fun and successful networking moments.
So, sometimes you can let yourself off the hook, but other times push yourself because something great might be waiting for you.
Just do it. You have to be in it to win it. Be all you can be.
Apply these familiar slogans to your networking efforts and start now. Talk to the people you already know about your life and your goals and tell them the types of people you would like to meet so you can learn and grow. When they meet those people, they will think of you and help connect you.
Professors, guest speakers, fellow students, co-workers, etc… These are all familiar people – the beginning of your network. Go to events, meetings, etc. with them to meet new people or start identifying organizations of interest and get out of your comfort zone and attend.
If you are an extrovert, then you can probably jump right in. If you are an introvert ask the event coordinator for help – I bet they will at least introduce you to one person. And don’t forget the power of LinkedIn. It is a great place to introduce yourself to people as you gain confidence to do it face-to-face.
Whether online or in person, don’t just collect cards and grow your number of connections – focus on engaging with people and starting quality connections. You want to build a network of people you trust and who trust and value you.
No Matter How You Do It, Start NOW
Your success is influenced by what you know, but it relies on who you know. The quality of your network will support you on your career journey – every step of the way.
Aga Artka, Allied ASID, LEED AP, and Jenny Schrank, Allied ASID, work together to educate and motivate young design professionals to take charge of their lives and build careers of their dreams. They started a career building newsletter and are working on a career development publication, which is planned to be released in 2014.
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