They say the best kind of favor is the one you don’t have to ask for.
During my four years with Target, I never focused much on networking. Of course, I met Executives in other stores and had a mentor or two, but I never really put thought or energy into networking. I just kind of met people and let the relationship develop (or flounder) on its own.
Funny enough, it wasn’t until I quit my job that I started to network. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense because the best time to build up your network is when you don’t need anything.
It all started when I reached out to a close family friend asking for her advice. I saw on LinkedIn that Susan was writing both a blog and book about how to get ready for real life while in college (click here to read more), and I though she would be the perfect person to ask for some pointers. After many emails filled with wisdom and thought provoking questions, I was still left wondering which type of MBA program would be right for me (Full time vs. night? Two year vs. one?). Susan suggested that I come visit her in San Diego and interview a few people in her network to get some business insights. I took her up on the offer and completed seven informational interviews in three days. With the help of Susan and her friends, I was better able to focus my research when determining which MBA program would be best for me.
Even though I have accepted an MBA program, which was all I was initially seeking help with, I have continued to seek more advice and grow my network. Including the original San Diego seven, I have gone on 14 informational interviews in the past four months!
I find that people, even complete strangers, are generally very willing to help. Most really enjoy giving advice and want to be part of someone else’s success story, even if it is just a minor role. Aside from their time, they have nothing to lose by sharing their career or MBA experiences with me, but possibly much to gain. Maybe it is a friendship, or a future employee, or maybe I can, in turn, offer advice pertaining to my undergraduate experiences to their children.
So, I truly have tapped into and understand the importance of networking and I am a total convert. What was I doing the last four years of my life?!
Here are a few of my favorite things gained through networking:
- Become more confident in talking about yourself and sharing your story. Honestly, I write a blog all about my life, so I am pretty open to sharing my intimate thoughts and goals. But sharing your story over the internet and sharing it in person are two completely different ball parks. I have found informational interviews to be a great way to become more comfortable in my skin. I learned to build rapport while getting to the heart of the conversation in a limited time, and found it to be the best possible preparation for my MBA interviews.
- Become exposed to new career opportunities. One idea that I have been mulling over for the past half year has been a startup company in career services. My aim is to help clients pivot into more passionate-centered careers. When talking through the logistics of such a business within my network, a few people have recommended some diverging options. Some have suggested a career in Human Resources, maybe focused on increasing engagement and retention at a large corporation. Others have thrown around a career in consulting, specifically within the change management sector, to achieve much of the same end results. Another interesting option is a career service company focused on helping clients with late-onset disorders, like my father’s Parkinson’s Disease. Each suggestion has been accompanied with a new contact in the proposed field and the offer for another informational interview.
- Become acquainted with new people. Networking is a chance to meet some amazing new people. Of course you might not connect flawlessly with everyone you meet, but some business connections might turn into lasting friendships. Although I have been meeting lots of new people, I am most excited about how I have become acquainted with old friends in a new way. Networking has allowed my relationship with my mom’s closets friends from business school to grow. Women that once helped change my diapers are now helping change my career path.
- Become acquainted with yourself. At the end of the day, networking and informational interviews are a chance to explore a new part of yourself. You might discover one career sounds horrible while another sounds amazing. By talking about yourself, you may better discover what is really important to you. Asking a stranger for feedback, could result in honest answers that might surprise you or confirm what you have been to scared to admit.
So, right now, when nothing is at stake, I am going to continue to build up my network and treat them right. Thank them for their time, express interest in their lives, and follow up (whether it is to let them know I started a new job, to wish them a happy birthday, or to share that I have done more research into their suggestion). That way, when the time comes that I do need a favor, hopefully I won’t even have to ask.
How do you maintain your network? Let us know below.