Many people shudder at the thought of attending in-person professional networking events (pre-pandemic, of course!). The awkward conversations, the inability to find common ground, the silly games the organizers make you play in hopes of building meaningful professional connections to expand your network. Trust me, I attended every type of networking event imaginable as I was building out my recruitment practice in Vancouver 15 years ago, under the advisement of my colleagues and mentors.
They were right, it is important to connect with other professionals to build your brand, propel your career aspirations and, ideally, help others along the way. After all, good people like working with good people (ahem, Arcurve). So, I hustled and attended events across the Lower Mainland for the first two years of building my desk as an agency recruiter. Some were excellent experiences that resulted in long professional relationships and sometimes even personal friendships that I still have to this day. Others were incredibly unproductive and left me thinking: “Why am I here on this cold and rainy Monday evening in February when I could be at home resting up in preparation for another busy day at work tomorrow?”. I then decided to approach this networking beast in a more authentic and ‘natural’ way.
Your ’natural’ network
For many, these networking opportunities are multifarious – fitness groups, gaming clubs, professional associations, conferences, beer league hockey teams (we are Canadians, after all!), the possibilities are limitless.
For me, I had my first child by then and found my ‘natural’ network with other working moms. We initially bonded over the new mom struggles of balancing happy, healthy children AND rewarding careers. We supported each other, offered advice and gave each other the space to be our authentic selves, without judgement. We had a foundational commonality and that is what is so important when selecting a network to join or events to attend.
Flash forward several years to when my children (two amazing daughters) started playing team sports and participating in other myriad activities (art, musical theatre, choir, dance, gymnastics, swimming, skiing, to name a few 😊), I cultivated another ‘natural’ network of other professional parents who were eager to share knowledge, offer guidance and support each other in truly meaningful ways. My point is, the more you have in common with those in your network, the more authentic the relationships will be in helping you achieve your desired outcome. You won’t know what those commonalities are until you start having conversations and connecting the dots…
Do your research
Are you a student looking for a co-op, internship, or new grad position? I strongly suggest that meaningful networking is the best way for you stand out in what is often a crowded and competitive talent pool. Take the example of an international graduate computer science student named Paul who I met several years ago while attending multiple career fairs, information sessions, and industry partner events in Edmonton, where I now live.
For two years, Paul attended every single campus event that we hosted or partnered with, even if it was on another campus! He made sure to personally connect with me each time and impressed me with his enthusiasm, knowledge of our company and drive to succeed.
When an internship became available in Paul’s chosen field, you can bet he was the first to apply! Since I was already familiar with Paul’s work ethic and commitment, it was a no-brainer to schedule a technical interview with our hiring managers. Paul was able to impress his technical capabilities and was offered the internship! I recently learned that Paul has been promoted twice, is an integral part of the team, and is working on the complex technical problems of his dreams!
Networking is effective at every stage of your career and is of utmost importance when you are a student and looking for that first big professional break. With so many events being held virtually since the pandemic began, the opportunities to engage with hiring managers, talent acquisition professionals, thought leaders and other students have never been so plentiful and accessible! Persistence wins and doing your homework in selecting the right avenue to network is equally important in making meaningful connections.
Feeling too tired or overstressed with course workload to attend that virtual networking event? Remember Paul? Paul got the job. Be more like Paul.
Networking throughout your career
Perhaps you are mid-career and experiencing a bit of a slump or looking for professional connections to bounce ideas off? Meaningful networking is your answer! Or perhaps you are in the later stages of your career and want the opportunity to mentor others and share your industry knowledge? Guaranteed there are some great avenues to make meaningful connections, enhance your network and positively impact someone’s career.
Networking in the traditional sense can be exhausting but, if you know what you are striving for and have done your research, there is a meaningful networking opportunity out there just waiting for you to tap in!