The statistics spouting the importance of networking are sprinkled in every career article from the small college newsletter to major international publications. We all feel the pressure to expand our network, meet new people and make a stellar first impression.
As a career coach working with MBA students who are looking to get connected in the business world, the most common question I encounter is about networking. In this tough economy many of students I work with are also juggling multiple roles such as full time professional, involved parent or caretaker. I often get an exasperated look when I bring up the importance of networking because the thought of adding another item to an already full to – do list is overwhelming.
Here are some of the best, most applicable, tips on how to network with limited time.
- Be prepared. You don’t have time to waste so come to any networking event with a plan. Know who is going to be attending, look them up on LinkedIn, find any commonalities you have to discuss, and then make the connection. This creates meaningful networking and allows you to leave at a reasonable time because you had a plan of attack.
- Be focused. I say this because I have been there, in the moment at a networking event, and all I can think of is my kids waiting for me at home, the school project that needs to be done or the paper that isn’t yet written. That makes the networking meaningless because your mind is elsewhere and you won’t appear genuine. You might as well have not been at the event at all. If you have taken the time to attend, then make sure to make it worthwhile and be present.
- Utilize an established network. When you have children at home, going blindly to a networking event outside of your network will be more challenging and take more time, and you may not find others there who are in your same situation (i.e. balancing mult
iple roles). It makes most sense to attend a networking event affiliated with your school (undergrad or grad), company or passion (think volunteer groups).
- Join a professional association. Yes, the dues are high but you have access to a ton of networking events each month and you can pick and choose which events best fit your life and schedule. Many are breakfast events which are the best way to squeeze in a little professional networking during a jam packed day without impacting your “at home” or “at work” responsibilities.
- Network everywhere. A dear friend of mine from California recently networked her way into her dream job. How? She met the hiring manager at her daughter’s toddler dance class! She started chatting with the other parents, made a great contact, kept in touch, one thing led to another and voila! Networking as a parent is unique in that many of the people who are sitting next to you at your son or daughter’s after school events are also professionals and may be able to impact your career.
Ultimately networking is about building relationships. As a business professional there is nothing that will impact your career success more than having a strong network. Make time for growing your network in a way that works for you.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Maggie Tomas works at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota as Associate Director and Career Coach in the Graduate Business Career Services office. Her background includes teaching and career counseling at the college level, namely at the University of St. Thomas, University of California Santa Barbara, and Brooks Institute, where she served as Director of Career and Student Services. She is a contributing writer to several blogs and publications including Opus Magnum, Women of HR and Job Dig.