Building bridges : A roadmap to networking



Building bridges : A roadmap to networking

Geplaatst op 22/11/2023 door Magalie

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When thinking about networking, it often felt like I had to be this appealing, outgoing individual that would spark interest in others. Instead, I worry about bothering people and am part of those for whom it is very unnatural to talk to someone you’ve never met before. Needless to say, I wasn’t comfortable with networking : I felt like connections made out of personal interest were not genuine, and the whole process felt disingenuous. But I realized this wasn’t necessarily true : there are ways to connect in a way that feels authentic and stay true to yourself. Here’s how. 

Get in the right mindset

Think of it that way: instead of trying to ski at the beach, you want to look for mountains to practice. Networking is about getting yourself in the mountains: connecting with others makes peers aware of your presence and availability if an opportunity were to arise. It puts you in the right place at the right time. Networking leads you to your mountain! Through connecting with your peers, you gain knowledge and the ability to make well-informed decisions. It allows you to be aware of the ongoing news, upcoming projects in your field and further your knowledge and interest. 

Understand your inner motives

Here is the tough question and the main dilemma : who do you reach out to? The answer comes from your own inner motives : What is your goal? Why do you want to reach out? What do you want to learn from your exchange? Understanding the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ makes the whole process a lot easier and much more fun! Identify your inner motives: what do you want to know and why? 

I try to find people I am genuinely interested in and figure out what I would like to learn from them. My interest can be in their practice, work ethic, organizational skills, soft skills or even  how they overcame obstacles that I am currently facing : they are people with common professional  interests, similar career paths, or at a position I would like to get to someday. They act  as a guide or reference for me:  they are people who inspire me  and give me a drive towards my goals. The clearer your goal is in approaching them, the easier it will feel to reach out and ask the right questions.  

You can write down a list of questions and information you are looking for, which will in turn make it easier for you to know who to ask. Not sure where to start? Look up articles of interest and their authors, conferences on themes you have an affinity with, employees working at a company you are interested in, alumni who graduated from your university… You want to be looking for people with the knowledge and advice you are seeking, and you might need to connect with multiple people to get all the different answers you are looking for. The ‘what’ and ‘why’ also allows you to be authentic in your exchanges, it makes it easier for you to formulate your questions when your goal is clear in your mind.  Finding out who you want to reach out to and what you want to learn from the exchange enables you to  ask  the right questions to the right people. 

Reaching out for the first time

There is a right way and a wrong way of connecting. Regardless of your reasons or ways of approaching someone, here are some points you should watch out for:

Reach out with the expectation to learn something from them, not get something from them.
I feel like the biggest  mistake when networking is expecting the person you are connecting with to offer you a job.  For people who are not recruiters or are not in a position to recruit, that would simply be asking for something they can’t do! When asked questions about their work or job, people are usually happy and eager to share the nature of their work, responsibility and experience. That is… if there are no expectations on their part! Avoid asking for a referral, an interview or a job from the people you are reaching out to.  For one, they don’t know you yet and can’t vouch for you and for two, you might come across as cumbersome.  If someone you are networking with does offer you a position, be grateful for it as they are under no obligation to do so. 

Remember to be grateful!
When people take the time to respond and share their insights, make sure to let them know you appreciate it!  Nobody wants to open up to someone who takes their time for granted or discards their experience and opinion.

Have an open mindset.
Be positive, don’t argue even if you don’t agree, reach out with the intent to learn something and most importantly, listen. Although it might at times feel like you’re wasting your time, trust the process. This mindset will make exchanges much more pleasant!

Make sure you ask the right question to the right people!
Always ask questions related to people’s knowledge and capacity : ask questions about ongoing projects, events related to their field, their opinion on a specific matter from the industry, their own career paths… If you’re wondering whether or not you can ask a question, make sure what you ask for doesn’t require any commitment on their part and is within the scope of their ability.  

  • Looking for a job, internship or opportunity : you want to connect with recruiters and  people who are in a position to hire you. Keep your questions oriented towards the role, qualifications, expectations, openings or  salary. 
  • Looking for information about a role, a company or field-related questions : you want to find people working in the company you are interested in, or in that role. They won’t have the ability to recruit you, as it’s usually not their role, but will have a lot of insights and experiences to share. This enables you to understand the nature of their job, what a regular day looks like, whether the company culture suits you, the pros and cons. You might want to take their opinions with a pinch of salt as some external factors might influence their answer: someone in an understaffed department might oversell you the nature of their work in hope to have extra help with the workload. Having multiple opinions from previous and current employees will help you get a more accurate feel of the environment. 
  • Looking for people with similar backgrounds, experiences or who faced the same challenges as you: whether it’s a language barrier, a social or cultural difference or a disability, we all have things we need to navigate through, and chances are some people in your field share the same challenges as you. You can reach out to them to understand how they managed to navigate through theirs, how they communicated their limits and adapted to the work environment. 

You might wonder: what's the point if you're not getting a job at the end of the exchange? Regular connections and exchanges will enable you to learn more: where the opportunities are, what qualifications they are looking for, what is expected from the job. In doing so, you will be able to make more informed decisions, it will help validate your decisions moving forward, you will be able to answer interview questions more easily and know what you are committing yourself to. 

You’re on the brink of creating purposeful and meaningful connections in your career. Nurturing these relationships and fostering a fulfilling community moving forward will also be beneficial long term in your career.

Learn where and how to first connect in part 2 of this article! (Coming up soon)