I describe myself as a friendly loner. I’m very friendly but tend to spend time by myself. However, despite this contradictory persona I have, I ’ve managed to build friendships and network along the way. What have I done to develop my network and gain opportunities? There are 4 things that I have done and will share with you regarding my own personal networking experiences.
Each of these items has helped me along the way in my career.
- Go to networking events alone. I know this may be hard for some people, but this is one of my secrets to networking. When I go to networking events with people I already know, that person becomes a crutch for me. I get comfortable and tend to only socialize with my friend or the person I know. When I go to networking events alone it forces me to meet other people. I push out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. I’ve met many people at networking events where I was alone and I still stay in touch with them. These people have told me about other events and other resources. For example about a year ago, I went to an event at Yahoo and connected with someone. This person kept in touch with me and told me to join the New York chapter of the Black Journalists Association. I am currently a member and would not have known about this organization if I had not attended the event alone.
- Research. When I was out of college, I used to try to figure out ways to meet people who would help me in my industry. One handy website was Eventbrite.com. I would find a lot of events for networking on this site. One day I found an event in New York City, where I’m from and currently reside. The event was a Young Creative Mixer. I went and found a great organization called FindSpark. FindSpark is a career development network of creative millennials. This group still meets and I am still a member. I met one member of this network a couple of years ago in a virtual event. Long story short, because of that member I became a contributor to a website for two years. This was all because I did some research.
- Make Social Media Your Friend. I browse social media for many different reasons but I also browse it for networking opportunities. One day, on my Integra feed, I found a blog that followed me. I followed back and kept myself in the loop about what they were doing. The blog founder had an event in my city, so I attended (by myself of course). The event happened to be a BYOB event. I kept in touch with the event organizers and low and behold, I now contribute to the BYOB website. All of this started by using my social media as a networking tool.
- Follow up. It is great to collect business cards and chit chat with new people you meet, but following up is the key to building your network. I have one prime example that is very recent. Last year I was interested in attending grad school. I went to several open houses for several schools. I went to one school in particular and received several of the faculty’s contact information. Over time, I kept in touch with the dean of the communications department and one professor. When I was accepted into the school, I notified the dean and professor. I kept in touch with one particular professor and when I started school in the fall, he selected me to be a student leader in one of the school’s program. He told me he felt like I was a leader. This professor is a journalist and he has become one of my friends. I followed up with this professor and have now built a relationship with him. Follow up with all the people you meet.
How does an introvert like me build so many connections? By going out of my comfort zone, being strategic, and following up. Networking is about building relationships and is intentional. As we approach the second quarter of the year, be smarter about networking.
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