Why twenty-somethings are failing at networking

The old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” is a difficult motto for our generation to grasp. The “what we know” (our education, work experience, and those extracurriculars) has been neatly and properly placed all on an 8 1/2 by  11 sheet, but getting that piece of paper in the right hands is a whole different task.

Networking newbies have a lot to learn about the importance of business connections and building relationships. How we handle such opportunities can be rewarding or a big, fat fail, so pay attention.

Priorities

For those of you who are on your fourth hour of a Netflix binge or are stalking a random stranger’s Twitter feed, wake up, we are talking to you! Why do we not see networking as a priority? Reorganizing your work portfolio vs. reorganizing your wedding pins on your “I DO” board?  That game ends with Pinterest-1, Profession-0. We are apparently busy planning for a future, but sometimes we are not taking the right steps to build one professionally. It is important! So find the time to make networking a part of your routine.

And by networking, we mean building professional connections. Yes, the Hot or Not App and LinkedIn are both social network platforms but make sure you are able to distinguish between the two.

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You checked the boxes 

Who needs contacts? The expectation that your resume is going to speak for itself is a naive one to make. Yes, you checked all the right boxes, graduated with honors, were president of the physics club, stayed out of jail; it should be your turn to shine. Some of the most successful people methodically and painfully worked their way up the ladder, so stop whining and get climbing. You have to contribute your time and support to make things happen for yourself. This all starts with finding a mentor, someone who has been there, done that.

Relying too much on the Internet 

Online networking has dominated in many ways over the past ten-plus years, but it is not the only way you should be connecting with people. For some reason we dreadfully fear picking up the phone to talk to a real, live human being, or we hesitate meeting for coffee and would much rather Skype that interaction. Leaning on the technology crutch may appear easier than making face-to-face connections, but stop hiding behind your computer! When you submit that resume into oblivion wouldn’t you like for someone to put a name to face? We may be New Age but some things are best done old school.

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Too aggressive or not enough 

When meeting a contact for the first time your approach is crucial. You do not want to come on too strong, but at the same time you want them to know you mean business. To avoid an overly aggressive image, lose the car salesman pitch. You are eager, talented, ambitious, have lots of ideas. We get it. Telling your story and telling your life story are two different things. Don’t overkill, because if you keep singing your own praises prepare to make it a solo.

Instead, get to know the person, what they do, what their goals are, and work from there. Whether you are talking to the company big shot or the company janitor, appreciate his/her time spent talking to you. Have enthusiasm in your conversation and pay attention to details. By taking interest in your contact, you will make them feel valued and hopefully interested in continuing the relationship. Seize the opportunity to gain some new insights about their business or line of work.

The follow through

You never know which people will be an important part of your career down the road, so it is vital to maintain relationships with your contacts. Follow up meetings with personal notes of gratitude and stay accountable of your promises to them. Both the size and quality of your network are important factors to take into account as well. You need more variety than a small group of close networks and more substance that a large group of unfamiliar acquaintances. Treat each business card you receive as paper gold. If the association does not immediately bring you an opportunity do no neglect the words of wisdom, and more importantly, do not burn the bridge. The world is pretty small, after all.

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Networking is not about short-term gain, it about learning, connecting, and growing as a professional. With time and effort you will see your skills become more adaptive, and you will become more comfortable in these scenarios. Have courage, confidence, and a personable attitude and you will do just fine.