I completed my undergraduate degree at the height of the recession and dove right into grad school to escape the nightmares of the job market… But then I finished my Master’s program, and had to face it. Without that protective umbrella I felt exposed and uncertain about the best way to get my career started. Fortunately, the people I’d met throughout my years in college, undergrad internships, and my graduate program were great resources to me as I began mapping out my future. What surprised me the most, however, was how much strangers would help me in my career.
This was when I realized that my network is my golden ticket in life.
Networking can be intimidating for a number of reasons: people are shy; they don’t know what to say; they’re uncertain of when or how to follow up, and so on. One of the most common concerns I hear from my twenty- and thirty-something clients is that they feel like they have nothing to give back due to age, inexperience, or lack of contacts. They have therefore come to see networking as a selfish, one-sided activity, and so they avoid it at all costs.
I believe that networking is giving, for all parties involved. Here’s why:
You might not be ‘successful’ now, but that will change. My clients frequently worry about reaching out to seasoned professionals because they feel they have nothing to offer in return. The people who will network with you understand that you will rise in the ranks of your career and that your eventual success is their success. Hundreds of people lent me a helping hand while I was networking my way into the Pentagon, and many circled back and asked favors of me just a few months after I accepted the job offer. I happily obliged, and these relationships grew stronger. Networking is only “taking” if you accept the outstretched hand with a mindset that you’d never return the favor. And by the way, returning the favor could take form in paying it forward to someone else.
Your network can do incredible things for you, but you can also do incredible things for your network. This is why you must become a connector. After all, the more you people you know, the more people you can help. Even if you don’t know of any job openings in the industry your contact is interested in, you probably know someone who does. Take any opportunity to connect the people in your network and do it without expecting anything in return. You will be amazed by the abundance that comes back to you. For me, these unexpected opportunities included an invitation to speak at a TEDx conference, article requests from numerous publications, and countless job offers.
Companies offer employees generous referral bonuses for great hires. Many employees are thirsty for great resumes as a ticket to a beautiful referral bonus from human resources. Companies that are limited in their resources to find new job candidates often encourage their employees to do the recruiting. The bottom line? Don’t hold back on contacting established professionals– strangers, even– just because you’re worried you have nothing to give – your resume could essentially fund their next family vacation!!
Every person you connect with has probably been in your shoes at some point in the past, and they have only reached their current success because someone else stepped in to lend a helping hand. These powerful individuals understand that you can’t do anything for them without first being given the opportunity, but they won’t know to help you unless you reach out to them!