Career Corner: November-December 2006

I've spent the past five years trying to get my business off the ground, but I've decided I need another job to pay the bills. Everyone tells me to network, but I'm not sure how to get started.

Networking probably ranks third—after public speaking and getting cavities filled—for "least favorite activity." Most graduates perceive networking as both unnatural and unpleasant. But it doesn't have to be.

The problem lies with many people's definition of networking as an activity you undertake simply to find an opportunity. In fact, it's both more complex and more fun. The reality is, no one is going to offer you their database of top contacts, or even share their advice, unless she wants to. That means you have to get to know her first. Your personality and passion have to shine through. True networking starts with talking to someone and building rapport. If you can't establish rapport with that person, start talking to someone else.

Another novice mistake is to assume that networking has to be done at "networking" events. While the people who come to such events know the score and may be more inclined to help, there are literally dozens of ways you can connect with other people. There are opportunities for networking from the subway to the restaurant. One of my favorite stories involves a graduate who wanted to become a stuntman. His most useful tip—the one that got him the job of his dreams—came from his hair stylist.

Through networking, you can build your own board of advisers. They'll be your allies, your advocates, and your harshest critics. They can include family members, colleagues, and professional acquaintances. You don't have to wait for the next networking event. Take the initiative and invite a potential "board member" to lunch. What do you have to lose?


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