Last night I attended an event on campus called the Business Writing Roundtable. Eight successful professionals from the Lehigh area sat before me and shared how much of an impact writing has had in their careers. Additionally, they all told us their backstories and how they got where they are now. I was fascinated to discover that most of these successful men and women in front of me had not pursued a career in the field they studied in school. This was comforting to me.
Another main focus of conversation was on networking. You constantly hear people in the business world refer to “networking”. College professors, scholarly journals, advice articles, and so many others have been telling me that networking is everything. We’ve all heard the saying, “it’s not about what you know, it’s who you know”. Yet somehow, I hadn’t really gotten the point. Who do I “network” with? Where? How? Would they be willing to talk to me? and if so, would it even help me out with anything? Why is this so important? I just didn’t get it; it didn’t click. One panelist mentioned something about networking and the room of college students (myself included!) just blinked at them; this sparked an outrage. They begun by asking how many of us network, have a mentor, a business card, or a LinkedIn account. They proceeded to tell us that we should have done all of things in high school, but now is not too late to begin.
Here’s my takeaway… Networking isn’t the formal, scary process that I (and others students alike) imagined it too be. It is ultimately powerful socialization. When you meet someone new, shake their hand and inquire about their professional interests and goals. Share yours with them as well. Ask them to grab a cup of coffee with you sometime. It doesn’t need to be an extensive meeting, and you shouldn’t have any goals going in. It is a 15-20 sit-down focused on meeting and discovering another person’s goals so that one day, perhaps you can assist each other in your careers. You never know who knows who, and there is power in numbers.
In summary, it is important to have goals. It’s also perfectly fine if those goals change. But always be prepared for new opportunities and be actively seeking new connections. Never be afraid to request a cup of coffee.