Upon entering college, a new word gradually made its way into my day-to-day vocabulary: networking. I would like to think I’ve been networking since I was a young girl in grade school, a time when every report card of mine read something along the lines of, “She’s a very bright and talented girl…but she talks too much in class!” (I guess I’ve always had a love for talking to people!) This trend carried out through high school, where my love for meeting new people and conversing with them continued, more responsibly so. This skill, which was once a bit of a nuisance to my teachers, has allowed me to move past the fear of shaking hands and introducing myself to a stranger.
For those who don’t know what networking is, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “The action or process of making use of a network of people for the exchange of information, etc., or for professional or other advantage.” I understand networking as meeting new people, swapping contact info with each other and then establishing a connection afterwards. (Note: Do not mistake networking with making new friends. While people you network with can possibly become your friends, don’t treat your friends as if they’re just a part of your network. That’s not what friendships should come down to.)
My first major networking experience in college came along when I joined SUNY New Paltz’s Media and Journalism Society (MJS) as a freshman. Bill Sobel, the father of the then-treasure, is a very well-connected person and helped bring relevant people in the media industry to major MJS events such as its Communication and Media Week. Though I had met Bill through a focus group for a start-up company’s beta testing of a website, it was at an MJS keynote event (featuring the genius Fred Seibert) where I went up to Bill and said to him, “You know so many great people, so as an aspiring journalism and public relations major, do you have any leads to places I could intern this summer?” He gave me his business card and told me to “stay in touch to speak about it further.”
After a few weeks of friendly emails and passing along my cover letter and resume, I had landed a phone call interview with the co-founder of Grand Central Marketing, an experiential marketing agency based in New York City. As a freshman in the middle of taking finals, I was at least a little nervous, but the phone call went stunningly and I was asked to come in for an in-person follow-up . That summer, I got my very first internship and it was PAID (score!). I had amazing coworkers, got to venture NYC, gained a new professional skill set and took up their invitation to intern with them again that following winter.
To think this all started with deciding to join a student organization on campus. Now in my senior year, after having participated in several different internships, I better understand how important it is to establish connections with people you meet—even if it’s just asking someone for their business card, make sure to follow up with that person with an email, a call or a LinkedIn invite because it’s absolutely worth it. We live in a time when we’re inundated with names and web links, but it’s that human link of connecting personalities, connecting names with faces, that really keeps the chain growing strong. You never know what amazing connection you’ll make by simply attending a conference, joining an organization, or even meeting friends of friends. Don’t be afraid because we’re all small fish in a big pond at some point in our careers. Be confident and network like it’s nobody’s business!