The Power of Networking
By Lauren Foley
After graduating college and entering the workforce there are endless opportunities and lessons to learn as a young woman in business. The expectations and opportunities of a first job are not always taught in the classroom.
While some of those expectations are directly related to skills and job functions, there are more intangible ones that are expected of people who enter the business world. Soft skills such as growing your outreach, building clientele, and developing relationships, are heavily valued and weighted in the career of business. As women in business, we want to empower ourselves to grow our careers and position ourselves for success. It is imperative that we advocate for our career path and grow our worth in our chosen professions. Well, how does a newly graduated woman enter the workforce and gain growth in these areas in their career? It is simple, networking.
Before jumping in, the first step is to understand the basic goal of networking. The purpose of networking is to gain connections with other business individuals to create working and professional relationships. Connections can provide many opportunities for young professionals ranging from cliental referrals, job offers, event sponsorships, achievement recognition, and even learning opportunities. The positive outcomes span even farther. By forming connections with other people in similar positions, you create a new network of people who can provide resources to each other, and connections that enable each other to grow.
“The purpose of networking is to gain connections with other business individuals to create working and professional relationships. Connections can provide many opportunities for young professionals ranging from cliental referrals, job offers, event sponsorships, achievement recognition, and even learning opportunities.”Lauren Foley
Where are you networking, how do you do it, and why? Are you looking to create a connection with a specific person who has influence in your field or community? Are you looking to make an introduction within a specific service that would be necessary to advance your career? Are you looking to find more ways to get more involved in your community and be of service? It is important to understand why you are attending each event you attend before you engage. Networking can take place in many different atmospheres such as attending a BBQ, going to an awards’ ceremony, or attending a convention. Your choice in events to attend should be in alignment with your purpose of networking. When looking for a referral source, individuals should look for a working relationship. A working relationship refers to the idea that if the other person’s client needs a service you provide, then they would refer the client to you and vice versa. Those looking for a working relationship should attend a networking event that is sponsored or put on by a local organization where other business professionals associated with the field will also attend — think maybe a trade show, chamber of commerce, or specific public roundtables. If the purpose of networking is to find new clients, then attending a business event or local young professionals’ event where others are just starting their career is the perfect place to create ground-level relationships that could lead to gaining clients.
It is especially important for new professionals to feel empowered at networking event. It can sometimes feel easier to stick to the people you know at an event rather than to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. A great approach to avoid this issue, is to scope the room, remember your purpose and use the buddy system to approach new people. When using the buddy system, it allows both individuals to have more confidence when starting to network because they can lean on each other while still being able to meet new people.
Remember, there are many ways to network, and some events might work better than others for you depending on your personality and your overall expectations. There are also events that will provide a more specific purpose of networking than others, so it is always important to note how the events went to determine if they are worth your time in the future.
It is great best practice to touch base internally with whoever went to the event to get their feedback. Who did everyone meet? What did they enjoy at the event? Were there any important follow-up tasks post event? What was the overall outcome? Having a quick internal conversation post event can increase the value your networking activities because you will remember who to follow up with, and as previously mentioned, weigh whether you would like to attend again in the future.
Overall, networking as a young women can be challenging but it is a great way to take the initiative to grow our own careers. It can help you advance your career faster while also improving your client service and relationship skills. While the benefits may not feel immediate in nature, networking is a terrific way to get your name out there, create learning points, and gain opportunities as a young professional. So, understand the value you could receive by meeting the right person, and start planning what is most important to you and your career. It is a skill that takes some time to learn, so practice makes perfect and get out there and grow your ‘Net.’
Lauren Foley is an associate at the Holyoke-based accounting firm, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.