Networking. The word was drilled into my brain from the time I began my Business degree at Simon Fraser University. We held networking events. We held workshops that taught students how to dress, or eat, or behave at networking events. Anytime we wanted to convince students to come out to an event, you would think we would offer free beer or something, but nope, we branded it as an opportunity to network. I have to admit, as a student, I started to hate the word; it wasn’t rational, but I had this strong negative feeling whenever I heard the word networking. I have been with The Refinery for just over six months. It’s the first job where I consider myself to be a professional rather than a student. I can happily report, I’ve learned a little since then, and have embraced the idea of developing my network wholeheartedly.
Developing and maintaining a personal network has already served me in my short professional career. Most importantly, it was from my network at Simon Fraser University that I was offered my position with The Refinery. Returning the karmic favour, I’ve used my network to help others find jobs or find suitable candidates in their recruiting efforts. Anyone looking on Monster or Craigslist can attest that you miss things with the thousands of job opportunities listed, and I appreciate that I can connect people who can develop a mutually beneficial relationship. This is the obvious benefit to networking, the part that people can see and identify with, but I would argue that was has changed my attitude is what lies beneath this.
Being a consultant, it’s almost like trying to find a job (for The Refinery) is part of my job. Without clients, we are not able to do what we love, to help people find their true potential in their work. To be fair, in my role, I’m not expected to know the CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is dying to hire The Refinery for ten years of work; expectations are set at a reasonable level for my experience. However, this does not mean I cannot add value by developing my personal network.
The first place I looked, beyond my network at school, is with the BC Human Resources Management Association. I had been a student member and had a few friendly faces within the membership, so it has been a safe place to start. I joined the Events Committee so that I would not only have the opportunity to attend different networking events, but I could actually help plan and orchestrate them.
My first event was a Mingle. Basically, it’s nice few hours, with some finger food and drinks, and people can just get together, meet, and chat. It’s a fabulous idea. I realized something that first evening, approaching people you don’t know is a little intimidating. I’m generally not the type of person who chats up people in the line at the grocery store or anything, so it was a challenge for me. This first time around, I tended to talk to people I already knew. I tried not to be discouraged; I was just testing the waters. The next Mingle I managed to come out of my shell a little more. I had great conversations with quite a few new acquaintances; I learned a lot about the challenges they face and was able to share a little bit about what I do at The Refinery. While it may sound surprising, I managed to make a connection with people in a relatively short amount of time, really, by just putting myself in the same room as them (with a glass of wine).
It is here that I really find value in my personal network. Finding a job, or a client, is invaluable in our professional careers, but there is something else that is often overlooked, and that is really just the interaction. I may be able to help someone find a job now, they may connect me with a potential client in 10 years, but today, we can share experiences, horror stories, and achievements, and really just enjoy each other’s company. Organizations are made up of people after all and my business is about people in organizations. What I’m finding the most valuable is this. I consider it not only an investment in finding business, but an investment in improving mine, while meeting some truly great people.
My core message is that, as a student, I felt like I was always asking for something, mostly a job. But this is not where the value of networking is. It’s talking with real people, with real issues that may be similar or different to your own, and mutually helping each other out along the way, is the real value.