Recently, I was asked at the last minute to fill in for an alumni panel at Temple University. As I sat down at the table and faced the room full of graduate students, I was nervous – not because of the public speaking part, but because I was worried that because I was a young adult, recently graduated with only a few months of the working world under my belt, I wouldn’t be able to answer the students’ questions (or, worse, no one would want to ask me anything!).
The panelists went down the line and introduced ourselves and were then asked to speak about our current jobs. When I spoke about my job, I mentioned that I handle our company’s client relationships and work on marketing the company, but that I was still learning the ropes and every day offers different scenarios and challenges.
Then, surprisingly, many of the students began to direct their questions towards me. They asked how I got the job, what did I do while in graduate school, and what advice could I share with them. From my point of view, the answer to all three of those questions was networking. Becoming an effective network was one of the biggest skills I honed during my graduate experience, and in the business world, it’s been a crucial ability that has served me well. In fact, it got me the job I hold today – I initially connected with Turnkey by networking with one of the company’s SVPs after he spoke in one of my graduate school classes!
The students I spoke with seemed to shy away from that word, stating that they simply were not good at “networking”. My challenge to those students was simple: can you talk to others? If the answer is yes, then you can network. Networking is simply talking to people, asking them what they do, and sparking a conversation. Then, continue that conversation via email, phone or at the next event you are both at.
If you are nervous about talking to people that you would eventually like to work for or with, start small: simply take some extra time each day to chat with colleagues, or with fellow students in the classroom. Think of networking as a conversation – that may make the concept less intimidating. Remind yourself that the best way to practice is to talk to others, listen, and remember those conversations.