Networking is necessary, not just at the start of your career, but throughout it. There are many levels but it can be as easy as being yourself.
When it comes to your job search, whether your first professional position after library school, or any search after that, networking is an important aspect. Visions of large hotel function rooms with eager faces and stacks of business cards come to mind, from networking sessions that I attended years ago when starting my personal training business. This environment isn’t ideal for many people, and can be pretty unproductive when the only thing in common between attendees is that everyone is starting their own small business of some type.
For someone like me, (I lean toward extroversion) networking comes pretty naturally. This is not to say that I don’t have a shy, reticent side of my personality. I have moved to new locations often, mostly because of my husband’s career, which can be a reason to retreat within. Yet it has also helped me strengthen my ability to extend myself in unfamiliar environments, which is much of what networking entails as you move forward in your career path. I’m not suggesting moving around the country unless you have some wanderlust to satisfy. However, you can learn to extend yourself in ways that don’t require going to huge gatherings where people mingle with the sole mission of exchanging business cards with as many people as possible.
Fast forward several years to a career change AND a move back home to the Boston area. I chose librarianship because it had all the aspects of a helping profession, allowed me to be in an always-learning-something-new environment, and avoided the ups and downs of clients’ commitment to their fitness programs (and in turn, my income).
I have heard people say “I am not good at networking. I am too shy and large groups make me uncomfortable.” But networking doesn’t have to be carried out in large groups. Networking is more of a weaving of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and mentors, created over time, always evolving and extremely beneficial in your job search!
I was fortunate to have encountered professors and advisors at library school that were the first threads of my network, along with internship supervisors and classmates. Actually, it was a support system: professors providing advice and encouragement, while classmates offered suggestions for next semester’s class pairings according to homework loads, and exciting new resources and technology tools. Your network isn’t about what someone can do for you, but how you can enhance each other’s careers, and lives.
Initially, when first creating a network, it can feel as if you are the one in need of help and you have nothing to offer others you meet. This is the first stage and in some ways, you are at a disadvantage. However, as you continue to build your network, you will begin to run into newcomers to the field who will be eager to listen to your advice about which professor to take a particular class with, or juggling your first internship while still writing papers until all hours of the night. Keeping a running list of achievements and new skills is a way to reinforce your confidence as you gain knowledge and experience, so that you know what you bring to the table in each encounter.
So where does networking happen in more comfortable environments?
- Beginning in school, get involved in student chapters of professional organizations, even becoming a student leader. It’s not absolutely necessary, as just participating will bring you to interesting social events with a purpose, involving people in the field and students with similar goals (and usually free snacks!).
- Seek out professors beyond the classroom to discuss school projects and interest in particular aspects of the field.
- Participate in special interest clubs which usually have guest speakers from the field as well as other students, often in internships that they may be leaving soon, and able to put a word in for their replacement.
- Get involved in professional organizations such as ASIST, UXPA, or PLA Professionals in the group will be thrilled to have an eager student and impressed that you are willing to be “the newbie”.
- Be genuine! Whether it’s someone you connected with at a deeper level, or someone you met briefly at an event, by being genuine, you will realize every connection you make when being your authentic self becomes part of your network at some level.
- Be interested in others! Learn and remember something about those you meet. This will make the connection feel more real and can go a long way in being remembered.
- Stay in touch! You don’t have to become BFFs, but you can stay connected by sharing a link to a great new resource through Twitter or email, or send a quick congratulations message on LinkedIn.
When your job hunt begins to be your priority, whether while still in school or upon graduation, you will feel comfortable approaching people in your support system (or network) for advice, feedback, and even a job reference. Soon you will be on your way to mentoring someone in their first job search!
Remember, to be yourself and call to mind your strengths, which can guide you to others with similar interests and personality types who are willing to help. Conversely, you may be drawn to others who are where you were a year ago, and need a boost of confidence as well. This alone can make you feel more professional and prepare you for another stretch beyond your comfort zone.
A year after graduation, (and a few temporary positions) I am happy in my first professional job as a reference and instruction librarian. When I landed the initial phone interview, I excitedly emailed one of my professors who had been a mentor to me since day one at library school. When I told her about the position, she happily offered to make a quick phone call on my behalf, as the woman I had the phone interview with (and had also invited me to a second, face-to-face interview) had been her library assistant in the past. I am now happily employed, doing exactly what I set out to do since the first semester in that professor’s class: reference and instruction in an academic library.
I have begun to straddle the line to the next level of networking. Former classmates and co-workers from past student positions have reached out to me for advice and support. I am always honored and truly reflect deeply on advice to offer so as not to sound “cliché”.
Now, go forth and network!