“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”
I was always (and still am) a shy person. Hearing these words was often discouraging for me. Networking was something I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach. Having immigrated to Canada as a teenager, my family knew nobody. There was tremendous stress to learn, adapt and compete. I saw first-hand the struggles my parents went through in securing employment with a lack of Canadian connections or networks. These barriers shed light on the importance of developing relationships to achieve goals. For better or for worse, it’s not always what you know or are capable of doing; it’s who you know and what they know about you. Your network can open doors for you that otherwise could not be opened.
So how can you start mastering and growing your network? Networking is a skill that you can learn even if you’re not a natural conversationalist. Building a sense of confidence is key to developing networking competence. If you have the right focus and determination, cultivating confidence is readily achievable.
- Be open to new people and experiences – I never liked moving beyond my comfort zone, but I have come to realize that’s really where the magic happen. Growing, learning and developing in a way that expands our horizons beyond what we thought was possible builds character and leadership. Start getting to know others outside your peer group. Join school clubs that broaden your exposure to other areas. In high school, I organized our first Career Day that allowed me to meet people from different spheres and build leadership skills.
- Practice makes perfect – I attended countless Career Fairs and Information Sessions as a student to get in front of others. No matter how much it forces you to step out of your comfort zone, take the first step and approach someone at an event and introduce yourself. The more you do this, the easier networking will become later on.
- Have an elevator speech – Perfect your hand shake and know your elevator speech (click here for tips & examples). These set first impressions, so make sure it’s strong and confident.
- Go the extra mile – Set yourself apart with sending follow-up thank you notes and questions related to your conversations. Even if you “don’t need to network”, you do. You never know when you’ll need someone to help connect you.
Remember, it’s never too early to network. Networking is an essential part of a job or internship search, and it is best to start practicing and refining this skill while in high school. With time, it will become an indispensable skill that you use for years to come. Starting to practice and build confidence now will enable you to become an expert at networking by the time you enter the working world.
Blog by Sharon S. Sharon is a GEM Mentor who is a logistics professional with one of Canada’s top retailers.