For many students networking can be a tricky concept to understand, yet we know that it is often necessary in the business world. Most people, myself included, look to networking as way to better their own situation, or gain a leg up on the competition. We often find ourselves asking, what can I get out of networking? Will meeting the right person help me land my dream job, or get a contract with the perfect company? How can all of these new contacts serve me?
Many people will be surprised to learn that this is not the way to think of networking at all. I know I was! You mean networking isn’t all about me? The answer is of course not! Once you begin to shift your perspective from what you are gaining, to what you giving, you can see how much more useful networking is for every party involved. Shifting your perspective opens up a whole new line of questioning. In what ways can my talents help make my dream job a better? Can I help improve the sales of the perfect company if I get that contract? How can all of my unique skill sets serve these new contacts?
Focusing On Yourself
First you need to figure out what makes you unique to employers. But wait, I thought networking wasn’t all about me? While it is true that you should think of how your talents can service others, first you need to stop and figure out just what those talents are. Doing this can take a bit of soul searching. A lot pf people are aware what their strengths are, but don’t know how to articulate them in a way that will make them stand out. Ask yourself a few questions. What do you people like about you? What are you really good at? What do you love to do and why? What makes you different from your competitors?
Answering these questions can be a bit challenging. When I first asked myself those questions I gave a one word response for each and proceeded to stare at my horribly bare computer screen for 20 more minutes. Talking yourself up can be hard and often times we feel silly writing about what it is that makes us so great. If you are having trouble, don’t be afraid to seek outside counsel. Ask your coworkers, classmates, and professors to weigh in. Show them what you have written about yourself and ask them to elaborate what skills they see in you. You may be surprised at what they say.
It is also important to go easy on yourself if it is taking you awhile to figure out these questions. My one word responses stared back at me for days before I finally was able to give a little more. Allow yourself the time to figure things out on your schedule.
Time to Shift Your Perspective
Once you have a clear distinction about what makes you unique, you will be ready to apply that to your networking strategy. Take your skills and strengths and start to shift your focus on how these can help someone else.
This new view of networking can help contacts and companies see that you have something unique to offer them. You are bringing more to the table than a resume or a business card. You have put in time and effort to figure out how you can help them! This shows that you care about their company. Shifting your perspective will not only make you stand out to employers, it can also help you to discover new talents, or hone in on new ways to use your existing ones. It can also give you the opportunity to practice creative problem solving before you land a job.
So what are you waiting for? Go start to navigate this tricky, but rewarding process!