Written by Lauren Pellegrino
Ah…another year has come and gone. As I reflect on the past year and look toward a new one, I am struck by how depressing new years’ resolutions really are. Frankly, they feel more like punishment for my previous year’s shortcomings rather than positive goals (lose 10 pounds, watch less reality TV, eat more chia seeds, whatever those are).
Let’s make a pact that 2015 will be less punitive and more constructive. One way I aim to achieve this is by setting reasonable goals, writing them down, and devising ways to reach them. If you’re like me, the odds are good that at least one of your goals involves your career (for me, it’s finding a job after I graduate from grad school). One of the most fruitful, yet seemingly most dreaded, ways to reach career goals is through networking.
The first step in networking is to get over your fear of it, revise your understanding of what it is, and relearn how it works.
Let’s review what networking is NOT. It is not insincere, it does not require lots of fake smiling and fake compliments, and most importantly, it is not difficult. Rather, networking is an intentional and thoughtful way to generate a list of contacts with whom you share a mutually beneficial relationship. Networking is about connecting with other professionals for the long-term, not making lifelong friends. And guess what? That’s perfectly okay.
Women tend to think that we are either friends with someone or we have no relationship with them. This is unfortunate because so much of our personal growth and learning occurs collectively with other women. Furthermore, we get so busy and consumed with playing multiple roles that we tend to view forging new relationships as a low priority goal. Worse yet, when we find ourselves in need of a network because of a job change or something else, we freeze. “I haven’t talked with Karen in a while. I had better not reach out to her.” Why do we make that choice? What is it about networking that is so terrifying?
Ladies, let’s stop the madness and agree that it is okay to connect with other women and leverage those connections as needed. Men do this all the time. Men have no problem calling some guy they met 10 years ago at a conference about a possible job connection. As long as we are still paid less and disturbingly underrepresented in C-level positions in this country, we must develop, maintain, and leverage connections with one another. Our careers depend on it.
Put this on your 2015 resolutions list: cultivate and nurture a networking list. Starting in January, begin connecting with women in your industry, industries you are interested in, advocacy or interest groups, etc. As you meet new women, find out if they are on LinkedIn, get their business cards or address, and find a way to connect with each person at least once per year. “Connections” can be as simple as a quick email, social media update, holiday card, or birthday card. We have to get over the idea that our female relationships are all or nothing. We can and should develop meaningful, reciprocal networking relationships without the pressures of friendship. Let’s make (and keep) a resolution we can feel good about.
If you need a networking resolution jumpstart, join us in January for the first annual “Making Connections” workshop in the private dining area at On the Oval Restaurant on NCSU Centennial Campus. This event is designed to help you develop and execute a networking plan that works for you. The workshop facilitators will provide all attendees with an interactive workbook designed to help you make the most of your connections and ultimately, enhance your networking efforts.