How to Network and Build Your Personal Support System
Workers across industries know this proverb to be true: “It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.”
The key to building a great career is networking, or growing the circle of people in your field of work who can help you find a job.
Although your skills and qualifications do matter, here is why networking may matter even more:
Recommendations. Words on paper can only tell you so much about a person. What employers really value may not necessarily be the qualifications that you possess, but how you as a person will add to their organization with your particular talents and personality. The best way to know this is through a recommendation from someone in your network. Just as we value recommendations on which products to use in our homes from our friends and family, employers value recommendations on candidates from people they trust in their hiring decisions.
Workplace environment. A company not only wants to hire someone who performs well at her job, but who fits into the workplace environment. A company that values an entrepreneurial spirit is more likely to hire a candidate who primarily displays creativity and not one who primarily displays analytical skills. When you surround yourself with people in careers or with skill sets similar to yours, organizations can glean from your network how you will fit into their workplace.
Support. A network is not only a group of people to help propel your career in the right direction, but they can also support you by their example. Their own stories of success and failure can support you through times of confusion or frustration.
Here are some practical ways you can build your network:
Networking events in your area. You can search online for different networking events, such as cocktail hours or casual meet-and-greets. It is a great time to meet professionals in your field, ask questions, and get your name out there. Be sure to dress business casual, bring business cards, and have a résumé on hand so that you can make a good first impression and have the chance to stay in touch with anyone you meet. Getting coffee or having a phone call to ask questions about someone’s career is a great start to building your network.
Internships. As we discuss in our “Why Intern?” article, internships are a great opportunity to put yourself out there with the kind of organization that you would like to work for. Even if you do not get hired, be sure that it will give you great work experience and that the potential recommendations from your supervisor could be a game-changer for getting hired in the future.
Social Media. Put together a LinkedIn page so that potential members of your network or employers can easily find information about you online. This helps to put you in contact with people who have similar career goals as you. It gives you the chance to look at the profiles of people with the career that you want and also to make connections with people who may be hiring (or know of someone who is searching for) someone like you!
Lastly, the most important person in your network is your mentor. A mentor is someone you can trust for guidance on your career path. You can ask this person for advice on which jobs to apply for, how to navigate job interviews, for contacts in your field of work, and more. Your mentor should be a person who knows you professionally and personally, and who is successful in her or his own career. Building your network is essential to finding a mentor, and vice versa!