Sponsored post: This post is sponsored by the Forte Foundation.
“It’s all about who you know.”
Ah, yes, the biggest cliche when it comes to networking advice. Like many a cliche and stereotype, this one too is grounded in truth. But how do we actually get to know people? For me, building successful connections has happened because of the three C’s: college, conferences, and conversation.
You go for the education; you graduate with a network. I’ve long viewed college as far more than a place to get a degree off of which you’re meant to build a career. Instead, you spend four years making connections with classmates, professors, counselors, and alumni, who may just be able to help you in your future endeavors.
At least, that’s how it worked for me.
The first two jobs I secured out of college were a direct result of my networking skills. In fact, my first job ever (working as a page for The Late Show with David Letterman) came about because I went to a party the second semester of my senior year.
It was alumni weekend and a friend of mine was hosting a house party to give us a chance to catch up with friends who had graduated, and give graduates a taste of the old college life. A mix of current seniors and the previous year’s graduates were all reminiscing and catching up. Then I saw an acquaintance of mine who I knew worked for The Late Show. I beelined it over to him, hell bent on uncovering how I could make my dreams of moving to New York City a reality. We talked about his new life in New York, his job, some goings-on about our lives and eventually I asked him if he thought I’d be able to apply for the page program. He generously offered to vet my application and put me in touch with his boss. Three weeks after graduation, I flew to New York to interview and landed the job!
After the one year page program, another alum connected me with his boss at a boutique public relations agency, where I ended up working for two years.
My college networking didn’t end there, but those two early career networking experiences helped me realize the importance of having purposeful conversations and asking for the order.
One of the hardest parts of networking is successfully having a conversation in which you want to genuinely connect to the person with whom you are speaking, but you may also want something. You need to offer some of value, even if you’re still asking for a favor. This is why just constantly saying, “oh, I’d love to take you to coffee and pick your brain” is really a terrible networking strategy. Other than a cup of coffee, which the person can probably get for free in his or her office, what are you offering? You want to always be adding value.
This brings me to the next C: conversation. I often donate time instead of money to my alma mater. The university does an annual prospective students brunch in New York City and I routinely go as a guest speaker. I give a talk about life as a student and what I do now, then I stick around to answer questions from students and parents.
Last year, one of the school administrators attended the event and I saw it as an opportunity to both give value back to current students while building my brand. In the general course of conversation, I mentioned I had a book coming out soon. She knew and said she’d love to find a way to help promote Broke Millennial, so I took the opening to ask for the order.
“I’d love to come back to campus as a guest speaker if you’re ever looking to sponsor a financial literacy event.”
A few months later I was giving a talk on campus and the university bulk ordered copies of my book to give out to students. I’d generated value for the school and for myself—a networking win!
Finally, the third C: conferences. It may feel like an introvert’s nightmare, but conferences are one of the most efficient ways to be building connections within your industry. There are seriously conferences for everything these days, all over the country, which means you may be able to get to one that’s relevant to you without incurring big travel expenses.
I got my conference start at FinCon, a personal finance blogger/writer conference, back in 2014. These days, it’s filled with not only PF bloggers, but media from major outlets and tons of prospective clients. Each year I leave the conference with at least a handful of serious job leads that often turn into freelance clients.
Attending conferences not only provides hundreds to thousands of potential connections all in one room, but it’s also a low stakes way to start honing your networking craft. You’ll learn to go from a basic conversation and a simple exchange of business cards to having meaningful dialogue and sparking ideas for potential partnerships.
Looking for networking help?
Networking well takes practice. You have to keep putting yourself out there to gain experience and hone the art. The Forté Foundation, a nonprofit that works to get more women into business leadership positions, wants to help you do just that. Check out the community in order to find opportunities to both network with powerful women and join the #NetworkLikeABoss giveaway!
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