By Carol Blymire, Faculty, Master's in Public Relations & Corporate Communications
When someone says, “Hey, let’s go to a networking event!” do you roll your eyes at the thought of sweaty orange cheese cubes and warm Chardonnay? Maybe your chest tightens, anxiety rising. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who is energized by meeting new people. Introvert, extravert, somewhere in the middle…making connections and having strong networking chops will serve you well during your time at Georgetown and beyond. Let’s talk about what networking really is, and isn’t, and how you can activate your networking DNA.
So, what is networking?
Networking is not about who you know. It’s about who knows you, and who likes and respects you. Collecting the most business cards or shaking the most hands is not networking. Networking is, very simply, the exchange of information between two individuals. It’s an important step in building and evolving relationships, and it is a give and take.
“Give and take”—see what word is first? That’s right: give. When getting to know someone, it’s important that you offer something you can do for them, rather than asking for something to help yourself. Could you help proofread a paper? Make an introduction to someone to help with a job interview? Be supportive when they’re going through a rough time? All of this is networking. Your giving nature will be remembered when it comes time to ask for help with something you need.
What can you do for other people?
When meeting someone for the first time, or reconnecting after an introduction, be prepared to talk about yourself and what you do in a conversational tone. Resist the urge to do the 30- or 60-second spew of your life history and work bio. Elevator speeches are narcissistic and selfish. They’re all about you. Remember, networking is about what you can do for other people. It's better to be remembered as someone thoughtful and interesting, rather than the boor who corners people at conferences to talk only about him or herself.
No one wants to hear anyone drone on and on about themselves. So, find ways to have conversations to share both what you need and how you can help others. I’m the biggest introvert you’ll ever meet, and I get my energy recharged from lots of alone time. But getting to know people and making connections fuels my work, so I’ve mastered the art of integrating networking into everything I do. All my clients come to me through referrals—I’ve never needed to actively market myself or respond blindly to RFPs.
Opportunities for networking are all around us, every day, especially in the Master's in Public Relations & Corporate Communications program. The student sitting next to you? His sister is a marketing director at Apple. Your professor? She has worked for nearly 20 years at one of the world’s most well-respected PR firms, representing consumer brands you know and love.
Ready to turn the tables on the old ways of networking and try something new? Here are three simple things you can do to up your networking game:
1. Have a real conversation. Sitting next to someone you don’t know in class, a meeting, or a social function? Say hello, introduce yourself, and ask him or her a question designed to start a short conversation. “I just got an Amazon gift card, and am dying for a new book. What are you reading?” “My Netflix queue is a mess—what are you watching that you’d recommend?” “I need a break from reading and hearing about the presidential campaigns—I’m thinking about taking myself out for dinner solo this week. Where should I go?” Starting a conversation about things we love to do helps open us up to new people, new experiences, and shared interests with other people.
2. Give a new answer to the same old question. When someone asks, “How are you?” don’t reply, “I’m so busy!” We’re all busy. Instead, use “how are you” as a way to drop a little nugget of awesomeness about yourself. Say, “Doing well, thanks! I listened to a podcast this morning about X and it now has me thinking about Y. What’s the coolest thing you’ve read or heard recently?” Please, I beg you, do not respond to “how are you” with “I’m busy” or “this weather is insane.” That’s lazy, and a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to connect meaningfully with someone.
3. Stay connected, and not just when you want something. Check in regularly with friends and colleagues, and don’t just email, call, or text them when you’re looking for a job. Instead, staying connected over the long-term means they will send job opportunities your way, rather than you having to reach out to them. When you give before taking, so do others. That’s the real power in networking.
— Carol Blymire teaches Personal Branding, runs a boutique PR firm, and writes about food and pop culture for The Washington Post and other publications. You can find her on Twitter at @carolblymire.