It was my junior year of high school when I began to frequently hear the word, “networking.” Nearly every single teacher I had that year stressed the importance of networking and how it facilitated what is most coveted amongst students, internship opportunities and professional growth. To me, the term networking was foriegn to my vocabulary and as a result, I never bothered to truly understand what it meant.
Senior year came, and the use of the word intensified with every passing month. This sudden surge would’ve left me unfazed if it weren’t for the fact that I still didn’t know what networking meant. All I knew for certain was that the term networking had a strong association with getting jobs or internships and that it involved presenting yourself in a very professional, business-like manner.
Up until graduation, I felt like I was one of the few people who didn’t engage in networking as I didn’t have any career related internships or job opportunities being offered to me. It wasn’t until college that I finally decoded what networking meant by realizing that it wasn’t limited to one type of occasion, type of people, or objective.
Networking in its most basic form is communicating with another person or group of people and developing a relationship where information that you consider valuable for what you’re trying to accomplish is exchanged. That's it.
That being said, networking can occur in a classroom, workplace, soccer field, cafeteria, or social media sites such as LinkedIn or even Instagram. The possibilities are endless and realizing this is what makes networking approachable and less intimidating.
Some valuable insights that make networking easier to achieve regardless of the landscape are:
Be yourself. Don’t compromise who you are or feel pressured to abandon the things that truly fulfill you. Find what ignites a flame of passion in you and connect with those who share that same emotion and can help you reach higher levels within that community.
Dress and prepare for the role you want to assume. This point is one that I think is very important. For many, networking may not involve wearing business attire, attending big conferences, or having an elaborate elevator pitch to impress. Whatever it is you want to succeed at, dress the part and prepare in a way that will set you up for success.
Become a vocal member of the community you chose to network within. Once you have identified the community that aligns with your passions and interests, become actively involved in discussions and events related to that interest. Apart from attending traditional in-person meetings or socializing events, engage with organizations and members relevant to your interests via social media to further your involvement.
One half of successfully networking is understanding what it means to network and the other half is realizing that a great majority of us have already done it without realizing it. Continue socializing and connecting with people who share similar aspirations as you and keep in touch because those same people you meet while at the bottom are the same people you might need as you all ascend to the top.