Networking: We all know we should do it, but approaching someone you don’t know is sometimes a scary and daunting task. When you view networking as a more informal process of building relationships, you can mentally overcome this challenge. In reality, networking is a 24/7 activity, and you can network without even realizing it.
CREATING YOUR NETWORK
The Oxford English Dictionary defines networking as “an action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” This can take place anywhere and at any time. For instance, have you ever attended a social event and chatted with someone you didn’t know? Did you have a conversation with someone sitting next to you at a sporting event or on a plane? Congratulations, you just networked.
When attending more formal networking events, like a professional conference, it’s important to keep in mind your communication skills and body language. Strong eye contact is a must, and come prepared with a short elevator pitch about yourself and a few go-to career or personal questions. (“What has been the toughest challenge in your career?” or “Where is your favorite place you have traveled?” are good conversation starters.) Also remember to put your phone away and to truly be in the moment.
TAPPING INTO YOUR NETWORK
My job as director of member engagement at IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) allows me to keep my passion for networking alive. You also have a chance to meet new people everywhere you go: on line waiting for a bus, in the stands at your children’s sporting events, at Broadway shows, and even at restaurants when deciding what to eat (if the person next to you has a dish that looks interesting).
Through creating these valuable relationships, you can leverage your network to help others and sometimes yourself. For instance, I’ve helped connect many people throughout the years to secure full-time job opportunities; and one of my friends helped me get my foot in the door at IMA when he spoke with several IMA leaders at a conference, let them know I was looking for a new position, and that I would be a great fit for the organization.
You never know when your network will come into play. Case in point: IMA is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, and the conference team was looking for a big-name keynote speaker to attract attendees to the event. Many years ago, I had the honor and pleasure of working on a conference with John Lacey, a professor from California State University, Long Beach.
In addition to teaching accounting, John also co-owns The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with his brother, a club in which Jay Leno performs regularly. I have stayed in contact with John over the years and asked him if he would help IMA connect with the comedian to see if he would be willing to participate. As you may know, Jay is “headlining” at the IMA 2019 Annual Conference and Expo!
PAY IT FORWARD, PAY IT BACK
Networking helps everyone, no matter where they are in their career. Young professionals look to build their networks as a way to advance their career and learn the industry. Mid-level and seasoned professionals may leverage their networks as a way to ask for technical advice before making a decision. In the end, you never know where you will meet your next lifelong connection, but keep an open mind (and an updated LinkedIn profile) for the potential that each relationship can hold.