Networking Feels Slimy and Impossible...Unless It's Built Into Your Job

Previous fellows, Tara and Emma, connecting at our Fall 2016 retreat.

Previous fellows, Tara and Emma, connecting at our Fall 2016 retreat.

In 2015, I did a fellowship with FLIA. As you may know, our work is heavily focused on strengthening other youth nonprofits. I worked directly with Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland to develop a youth program they wanted to introduce, but the fellowship also came with a strong connection of peer-fellows based at other nonprofits around the country and a support staff at FLIA. Essentially, I had the opportunity to work closely with people at both organizations and double the size of my network in half the time it would take with a traditional role. It was here that I discovered the power of partnerships and collaboration, but also how collaboration directly relates to networking.

Networking can feel slimy, impossible, and insidious, especially if you live in a larger city that has a culture of next-best-thing social turnover. The idea of meeting new people just so you can leverage their connections in a given field in order to get something you want - it sounds selfish. It sounds greedy. It sounds very Type-A-Business-World-y. Though, in a way, it infiltrates every corner of our lives, and not necessarily in a slimy way. We must reframe the idea of networking, especially for people trying to enter the workforce today.

Networking is just strategic socialization. Yeah, for introverts like me, that still sounds somewhat painful, but it doesn’t have to be.

Successful networking simply requires being fully present with the people you are surrounded by,

whether or not you know if something is in it for you yet. It means putting effort into those awkward airplane aisle conversations. It means engaging genuinely with extended family and friends of family. It means acknowledging someone you see frequently on public transit or around the building you work. Every single person represents a potential growth opportunity - either for you directly or for you to help someone else.

Networking in a current position is often overlooked. We tend to think networking must be done outside of the office, after-hours or in addition to your workload, but we are wrong. Networking is a social practice that can be naturally built into the functions of your job and honed daily.

Seek out cross-departmental and collaborative projects

When there is an opportunity to collaborate, take it! Especially when you are just starting out. A strong team made up of people with varying knowledge, skills, and abilities working towards a mutual goal is only going to benefit you - and organically expand your network.

Make a concerted effort to engage both (or all) sides of a partnership

The first principle only works if this is also applied. When working on a project that has more than one stakeholder or on a team with people from multiple departments, don’t just stick to who and what you know! Use partnerships as an opportunity to grow and expand both your knowledge base and social network. Ask someone whose job you’re curious about if you can observe them working or take them to coffee to discuss a topic. They won’t be annoyed - they’ll be flattered (and more likely to engage)! I’m channeling Dale Carnegie here but, “To be interesting, be interested.” Seriously. It’s proven.

“Connect” promptly

This wouldn’t be an article about networking in 2017 if I didn’t mention LinkedIn. Some of us are name-rememberers. Some of us are face-rememberers. Some of us… well, remembering comes hard.  That is why connecting on LinkedIn is critical! And time sensitive! My LinkedIn connecting rules of thumb roughly go as follows:

  • Met at a one-time conference or event? Connect within the week of meeting.
  • Met through a formal class you took together? Connect within two weeks of the class ending.
  • Met through your new job? Wait at least two weeks and then connect within two months of working together.
  • Met through your old job but left on a good note? Connect within two weeks of leaving the job.
  • Met through your old job but left on a bad note? Consider sending a personal message to make amends or just simply don’t connect. We can’t have ‘em all on our team.

About that point of personal discovery that I spoke of earlier - After my fellowship ended, I gained a full-time job at the nonprofit I was paired to work with. Eventually, I left that nonprofit to return to FLIA as staff. Part of my work now includes acting as support staff for fellows just like I was. And it all happened because of the power of a network.

Do you want to work with youth this summer while also developing critical skills and expanding your network? We're still accepting applications for Summer 2017 fellowships until March 26th.