First Person: Liz Breen on Navigating Your Network
Soon-to-be-graduating Boston University communications student (and “Conan!” intern), Liz Breen, a few weeks ago in her first guest post on YII. Below she provides her thoughts on networking. (Yes, she already has a job lined up and she hasn’t even gotten her diploma!)
Networking. Networkingnetworkingnetworking. Your network can get help you get ahead, help you get a job, help you get that fancy car you always wanted. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I’m sure anyone entering the entertainment industry has been inundated with speeches centered on the importance of building and utilizing your network. Well, it’s true. At 22-years-old, my network cannot compete with that of a seasoned veteran, but it is a strong network and one that has recently managed to help me get a job before I even graduate college.
I’m not going to pretend I am the ultimate schmoozer. I don’t know how to “work a room,” so to speak. The thought of attending networking events, pocket full of business cards, makes me shutter a little, and I’m sure I’m not the only one in this boat. What I’ve realized from my short time in LA thus far, however, is that networking doesn’t only come from events with the word “networking” in the name. My strategy for networking? Build friendships. Show an interest in people as colleagues and like-minded individuals rather than as people who are there to do something for you.
When I do go to networking events, my strategy isn’t to dole out as many business cards as I can, tossing them aimlessly like Rose throwing the diamond into the ocean. My goal is to connect with a handful of people, strike meaningful conversations, find similarities, then, when I go home, follow up with at least one of them, inviting them for coffee, perhaps. At work, I don’t act like a shark. I don’t search out the most powerful executives and slip my resume on their desk. I feel out the environment. I find out what people interest me, who I think I might get along with personally, who I admire, and I slowly strike up conversation, build trust and respect.
It’s definitely not a strategy for the impatient. Mostly because I don’t throw the word “job” or “resume” into the conversation for quite some time. However, being the tortoise and not the hare, I think, gives me a lot of advantages. Firstly, I don’t put my faith in someone who may not have my best interest at heart or simply someone that I don’t share similar views or interests with. You don’t want to be so eager to get a job or build your network that you allow someone access to your life and ideas that perhaps you shouldn’t. Secondly, I give people time to get to know me and trust me. It is only by trusting in you that people will feel comfortable with recommending you for a position, as it is their reputation on the line as well as yours. Thirdly, I am creating strong ties with a select few people, not a scattered series of weak ties, ties easily forgotten about and ultimately hard to make use of.
When it does come time to try to redeem some points, so to speak, I also try not to keep count. It’s not tit for tat. Help people when you can out of kindness and faith in their abilities, not because you ultimately want something from them. People don’t owe you anything, and who knows? All your favors to them may be returned to you in a way you can’t even imagine a year or two down the line.
I’m no expert on networking, and many accomplished people may tell you that I’m crazy. All I know is what has worked for me thus far in my young life, and what I can say with confidence is that showing genuine interest in people and looking for ways to extend kindness to those that you can goes a long way. While people generally expect that you want something from them, be it advice or something greater, there is no harm in pleasantly surprising them and coming about it in a new way.
They say this is an industry full of snakes, and perhaps it is my youthful idealism talking, but I don’t intend to be one of them.
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