The term “Networking Events” might be misleading in the sense that it:
a) implies that you have to be at a labeled ‘event’ to network and
b) those events are going to provide you personally with the best possible networking contacts.
Networking events are important and you should go to them, but the best possible networking is the all-the-time networking.
Here a few examples from my recent experiences in a new city:
- Answering an email that provides someone with information they need that you have. That’s a networking opportunity: be sure to fill them in on what you are up to.
- Chatting with parents of my kids’ classmates got me an introduction to someone in my field in our new city.
- Chatting with another parent* revealed a connection to someone I know from an annual national conference–and that person’s name got me a gig that’s almost literally out my back door.
- Striking up a conversation with someone at the bus stop or on the bus–I got a great campus gig that way!
- Observing commonalities is a good way to start a conversation. Wearing a t-shirt from my alma mater at the gym this year has yielded me a friendship with an industrial designer for The Gap, a connection to one of my husband’s best clients, and a fellow dog-lover with whom I have a lot in common. How will these connections help me in my career? I don’t know. They might not. Same is true of every hand you shake at a ‘networking event.’ But striking up those conversations in front of the school and at the bus stop panned out. You never know, which is why you always network.
Language students have a broad cultural understanding and international experience that makes this concept of constant networking easier to understand, embrace, & benefit from. From your language courses, service-learning experiences, and study abroad you have overcome the challenges presented by negotiating every day encounters–whether it was getting to know how to order food in a new cultural context, figuring out how to get the exact product you wanted in a pharmacy, the ins-and-outs of negotiating cab fare, or the routine of a new household.
Now you just have to explicitly embrace how that translates into major networking skills for the professional context.
Start by thinking of specific examples that illustrate your superior networking skills. Then in a cover letter or job interview, you can tell that story, explain the general pattern you learned from it, and clearly state how you would apply that skill to the specific job in question. Let me give you an example from my experience (note the 3 steps):
One day at the bus stop I started talking to the only other person waiting; by the time we each had to transfer, I knew that she was the Business French instructor at Northwestern University and I had successfully delivered my elevator pitch for the career preparation workshops I lead for language students. Only one week of classes remained in the academic calendar so I knew I had to act fast; I followed up by email later that day and exactly one week later I was delivering my interview prep workshop to 15 “French for Commerce & Industry” students at Northwestern.
From that, I learned that every encounter is a potential opportunity to make a sale.
I know [from my pre-interview research] that the sales department in your company is eager to reach a middle-aged demographic and with my network of peers and willingness to cold-call sell at every opportunity, I can help your sales expand into the demographic market you seek.
Most language students don’t mine their experiences for profession-related experiences. When asked, they can usually provide an excellent anecdote like my bus stop example, but then it is essential to generalize from that example to the workplace context and explicitly state how that skill will be applied to the specific job being applied for.
*For you young college students and recent grads, think “parents of all my friends”–those are great contacts to nurture & maintain until you are parents yourselves and gain access to all the parents of your kids’ friends. Likewise for access to networks in a certain demographic group–I mention middle-aged demographics, but recent grads are often the most sought after demographic group.
Darcy Lear is a Chicago-based career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they standout in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one coaching or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org