As a journalism major right after the Watergate scandal and the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting by Woodward & Bernstein at the Washington Post, everyone wanted to become an investigative reporter. Competition was fierce.
I worked hard as a stringer and on the student-run college newspaper. Still, my college professors warned me that excellent writing and award-winning reporting skills alone weren’t going to land me the job I craved.
For that, I had to cultivate a network of professional editors and writers who knew me and validated my work. I was compelled to attend events sponsored by the professional chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists and monthly meetings of the Orange County Press Club.
To a relatively shy, inexperienced 18-year-old, it was a monumental task to meet new people, befriend them, and master this thing called ‘networking.’
Since then, I’ve worked as a reporter, copy editor, city editor and managing editor for several newspapers and magazines and in public relations as a consultant for a full-service agency and a university.
Along the way, the networking skills I first learned in college have yielded an expansive network of colleagues and friends. Cementing my network required additional service, so I was elected president of the Orange County chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and joined CASE, the professional association for university communicators.
It may sound easy, but building a good network takes time and effort. I choked down many a rubber-chicken dinner and sipped many cocktails at mixers while standing on throbbing feet at the end of the day, when all I wanted to do was relax at home, reading bedtime stories to my three kids.
But, it was all worthwhile. Colleagues have opened doors for me in every place I’ve worked. Rarely a week goes by that I’m not networking – including having lunch with a colleague, attending a networking event, or sending a job listing to someone who’s looking for work.
Networking has made it possible for me to establish and grow my communications consulting business after I was forced into retirement in 2014. All it took was a single Facebook post advertising my availability to generate more than 75 responses from supportive contacts.
Networking is what I do. Once I learned it, I’ve never stopped. Today, as president of the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, I have a new and expanding network of communications professionals. Now, networking comes naturally. Blessed with nationwide connections, I still network in some fashion every day.
There are countless how-to articles and books that offer many useful tips when you’re learning to network. My advice?
1. Join a local industry-related business group and attend meetings faithfully.
2. Speak to other attendees and get to know people.
3. Practice smiling and being friendly.
4. Know your elevator speech.
5. Pay attention when other people talk about what they do. Remember their names.
6. When you leave an event, remember who you spoke to. File the information somewhere. There will be a future opportunity to connect again.
I’m very thankful to the profs and pros who recommended networking to a green newbie – my decades-old network has served me well. And should you heed my advice and experience, I know that you too will reap rewards from your networking efforts.