You attend a networking event or convention, hoping to meet leaders in your chosen field. It’s a great event but there are qualified professionals everywhere, and they’re all eager and waiting to chat. A top person in your field walks by – this is your chance to shine! Before you can react, they approach you and start talking.
What do you do?
If ‘shrink away in fear and hide behind a wall’ is your answer, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that many college students are afraid of more experienced people in their fields. They can’t imagine networking, online or in person, with working professionals out of their peer and age group. It’s very hard to shake that type of fear, even for a great opportunity.
Focus on the Outcome!
Networking is the only way to the top, though, and that fear has to go! The fear is: “Why Would Anyone Talk to Me?”
To be a great networker, you will reach out to meet professionals in your field online through an effective profile, search for your ideal connections and then ask for a connection. Then, and here’s the scary part, you need to ask for an introductory call. It really works and is the best way to create long-lasting relationships.
With either in person or online networking, actually “talking” to a person is the only way to evolve those relationships for your career. If you focus on the outcome of meeting new people that are willing to contribute to your growth and you to theirs, then it becomes a mutually beneficial exchange.
The Great Divide
Part of the huge disconnect between student job seekers and making connections is a sense of self-worth. It’s hard to see yourself in the same playing field as someone who has more experience.
As Thomas Magaldi, PhD., Career & Professional Development at Memorial Sloan Kettering points out, many students are afraid that they aren’t worthy enough to start a conversation:
[When asked] “Who is still resistant to requesting informational interviews?” Roughly half of the students and postdocs in the audience sheepishly raised their hands. When probed to defend their resistance, one despondent graduate student protested, “We are all just lowly graduate students who have nothing to offer these professionals in return for their time and wisdom. Why would anyone who has transitioned into a successful career want to help us?”
Consider these two things when you’re doubting your ability to make valuable connections based on your current skills:
Networking is a Two Way Street
Information gets Exchanged: The benefits of networking are for both parties. Since you are exchanging information, try to avoid feeling like someone else is doing you a favor by giving you time. Whether you’re networking for professional growth, exposing each other to a larger network, or just getting a different viewpoint, networking is beneficial at any skill level. You’re not calling to “ask for a job”.
There’s an Advantage for Both Parties: When you approach more experienced professionals, they are more likely to recognize the advantages of talking to you than the negatives. Remember that those attending a networking event or are on a social networking platform want and intend to make connections, so you already have something in common.
Age (Young and Older) has its Benefits: Networking is about growth – you (or anyone else) will not grow by only talking to those with the same level of experience. As our next point will lay out, even your age is an advantage in networking.
Your Generation is an Important Advantage
For older, more seasoned professionals who were trained in a different time, they’re looking for a new perspective. Older professionals need your input to reach and work with your generation as much as you need theirs.
Remember – everyone you see online and at networking events has been in the very same situation. Someone gave them a chance, and someone will give you a chance. If you put yourself out there and are professional, engaging, and willing to learn, you will stand out from the crowd and advance your abilities. Understanding your worth and refusing to undersell yourself is going to be what sets you apart in a competitive world.