Everyone wanted to be an investigative reporter when I entered college as a journalism major right after the Watergate scandal. Inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting by Woodward & Bernstein at the Washington Post, competition for classes 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 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 leadership 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 rubberchicken 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 coffee with a colleague, attending a networking event on Zoom or in person, 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.
After serving recently as president of the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, I’ve developed a new and expanding network of communications professionals. 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. Listen well. Pay attention. Remember people’s names.
5. Let your natural curiosity take its course. Ask questions.
6. Know your elevator speech. Know how and when to tailor it to your audience.
7. When you leave an event, remember who you spoke to. File the information somewhere.
8. Look for opportunities to connect again.
9. Connect your connections – when you see an opportunity that fits someone to a T, make the referral.
10. Consider volunteering to serve on a committee or board.
I’m thankful to the profs and pros who recommended networking to a green newbie – my decades-old network continues to serve me well. I know that you too will reap rewards from your concentrated networking efforts.