By HUI YI-WEN
You may remember one of our recent writer, Zara Jayne. She contributed a number of excellent articles, from diversity to creativity, and even writing on the coaching and mentoring relationship.
Zara was all set for a job interview at a marketing agency, when serendipity came calling and she landed herself in Leaderonomics, writing for our editorial team. How did that happen? Well, all because of two “aunties”.
One fine Sunday morning, I reluctantly followed my mum to a community event. The aunties in charge were slightly short-handed and needed some extra help with preparation and setting up. Filial daughter that I am, I agreed to forgo a couple of hours’ beauty sleep to help them out.
As with most situations where ladies are gathered, there was a certain amount of chatter in the air. Inadvertently, I overheard one of the “aunties” talking to her friend about her daughter who was not so sure about a job opening.
I slipped naturally into the conversation and was soon chatting with the auntie about her daughter and her career aspirations. By the end of our event preparation, we had talked on a variety of topics from “young people nowadays”, the current job market, and an opportunity at Leaderonomics. I met Zara herself during the event; we clicked over some food, she sent in her curriculum vitae a day or so later, and soon started working with us.
Ask any businessperson or leader, and they will tell you that skillful networking has been one of the vital keys to their career success.
Think networking – and immediately, images of well-spruced adults at posh conferences and serious business meets come to mind. Without a doubt, networking is a valuable working skill for business and career opportunities, especially among entrepreneurs and brokers.
However, many young people will usually start networking when they begin looking for a job, or after a job loss. General networking is often seen as the exclusive domain of older working adults.
Yet, why should this be so? What is networking, anyway?
Quite simply, networking is the exchange of information between you and other people, in order to build personal and professional relationships that will yield long-term mutual benefits.
These can come in the form of information, recommendations and referrals, or simply the pleasure of building relationships with like-minded people.
Career-wise, it makes great sense for college students and young adults to plan forward and amplify their marketability through strategic exposure to different industries and professional contacts, including human resources folk.
But more than a hunting ground for job opportunities, networking broadens your horizon and worldview, exposes you to different people, challenges your perspective and mindset, and can open doors to opportunities beyond your anticipation.
This might interest you: 10 Ways To Stop Feeling Overworked And Overwhelmed
Establish your ‘whys’
Networking is not hustling your parents’ friends, stocking up your Facebook friends’ list, or even giving out stacks of name cards at as many seminars and workshops as you can attend.
A simple Internet search will provide you with great tactical networking tips such as joining student societies (AIESEC, student unions, university clubs), developing your LinkedIn profile, and participating in youth events and forums such as TEDxYouth@KL, Microsoft YouthSpark and Young Entrepreneurs’ Conference 2014 (organised by Alliance Bank).
However, before you plunge head first into networking, think about your whys. Why do you want to network? Why should you be networking, anyway?
Take a step back and look clearly at yourself. What are my aspirations? What do I enjoy doing? What is my communication style – do I feel most comfortable in large or small group settings? Leverage on your strengths and preferences, and over time, you will develop a purpose-driven networking style that is uniquely, you.
Not being particularly entrepreneurial-minded, I do not network for the aim of gaining a wide net of contacts and seeking out untapped opportunities and business. What I do thrive on is broadening my worldview through conversing with diverse people, understanding wonderful varieties of experiences and perspectives, and generally keeping updated on market trends.
Through this, I have had the privilege of conversing with genuinely interesting people in many different fields, and broadening my knowledge horizon. In their own ways, this string of people have educated me, challenged me, kept me from being a “katak di bawah tempurung”, and shaped me into the person I am today.
Leverage your influence
If you have never thought of building your networks before, you do not have to look too far to start. Family, friends and even your academic lecturers are great people to start conversing with to build long-lasting relationships beyond their functional roles.
Do not see your older relatives – uncles, aunts – and even your parents’ friends as boring dinosaurs. These are the people who have made their way through life, each with a unique worldview and a set of experiences. They are also potential databases, where a casual word or a written referral from them could open doors for you.
Not sure what to study and what career to pursue?
Conduct a reverse-interview with your parents’ friends and find out more about their careers, daily work and what it takes to excel in their respective industries. Beyond the staple Asian careers of doctor, lawyer, engineer and accountant, there are countless exciting careers out there, and there is no better way to explore than with someone who has already paved the way. The older folk you meet could one day be your boss or mentor.
Giving to get
Whether you are interacting with a senior, a peer, or even a junior, remember that networking is at its best in the form of a mutual, two-way relationship.
Be the first to offer assistance – a favour, influence, or information, and return favours as soon as possible. Ask for advice, perspectives, opinions and be generous with your knowledge too.
Building a lifetime’s worth of personal and professional networks is about giving, and the patience to be in it for the long run. When you give willingly, a natural consequence is that others will also be generous in giving back to you.
Suggested reading: Connection Is Giving
Don’t burn your bridges
Even if you do not quite get anything in return, remember never to break off your relationships.
When you get to know people and make an effort to establish rapport, you are already giving them your time – something you can never get back. Inevitably, you will meet people who just do not seem to bring any value to the relationship. They have nothing to contribute, and even worse, keep taking from others without exchanging anything in return.
With hindsight, life has an unexpected sense of humour – you will never know if one day, a person you unwittingly ignored turns out to be your new boss, or is in a position to open or close a door on you. Just go by the universal rule of “do to others as you would have them do unto you”, because sometimes the best opportunities come through unexpected ways.
Coming back to my meeting up with Zara that fateful Sunday, we could have missed our window of opportunity like two ships passing in the night. I could have stayed home that day, and there was no reason for Zara to meet this random girl her mother just connected with.
We did meet anyway, and I gave first – not because she wanted something from me, but simply because I could give. Has she given me anything in return? Perhaps not directly, but she has enriched all our lives in Leaderonomics just through her professional and personal relationships with us.
Enjoy the adventure
I hope I have not scared you off networking for life. It really is not that complicated – figure out your purpose for networking so you do not drive yourself to networking fatigue. Develop your unique networking style, build meaningful relationships, and always be open to new people and new opportunities.
Most of all, have fun!