Over recent months, a pattern has emerged in much of the networking that has shaped my professional life and the professional lives of those around me. In life and in work, no one can downplay the importance of networking. Every day, you have the ability to meet people, make connections, and expand your network. However, while networking is important (as I mentioned in my last two posts), it is also important to make genuine connections and cultivate them over time. In the field of library and information science and out, there are so many different careers we can assume in our lifetimes – but not all of them are posted on job boards or networking websites. Some of them are only available through conversations with your connections. So, one should start networking early in their careers to maximize their chances at getting their dream career either during or after completing their MLIS degree.
Now, one’s approach to networking is everything. Since our life experiences constantly shape who we are and how we interact with the world, everyone naturally approaches networking differently. However, there is a clear distinction between genuine networking and just using people for information. If you only reach out to people for information and neglect the connection otherwise, you are not networking – you are just being rude. This is something I have first-hand experience with and I am sure others can empathize. Thus, in your quest for connections, you should pause and reflect on if your networking pursuits are unappealingly selfish. Being part of a network, you should not only look out for yourself, but for your connections, too; since opportunities that may come your way may come so you can redirect them elsewhere within your network. Thus, to network is to connect, but you cannot connect with others if you are only focused on yourself.
This is something I learned as I progressed through my undergraduate career into graduate school and broke some bad habits along the way. With everything we all have to handle regularly, it is easy to lose sight of this as we try to propel ourselves forward. However, to keep our networks strong, we should find a way to strike a balance between meeting our personal and professional needs and meeting the needs of others. For example, there have been times where I have come across opportunities not necessarily suited for me, but suited someone else in my network. So, I passed along the information instead of passing it over entirely – an act that maybe only took me about five minutes. I can attest that sometimes those five minutes can make all of the difference because someone else’s five minutes led me here to HLS. So, those five minutes are essential to take when appropriate because wouldn’t you want someone to take them for you?
In our ever-connected world, connections can easily falter from time to time as we all handle everything in our lives as well as we can. This aside, though, this does not entirely excuse making connections just to increase our social media accounts’ numbers, LinkedIn included. We have to treat people as more than a number and, to do that, we need to do the work. We need to take the time to gradually build up our connections and strengthen our networks so they can thrive; which can be accomplished in five ways:
- CONNECT: While connecting, try to get to know people well enough so that if you come across information they may be interested in or benefit from that does not suit you, then you can pass it along as this could work out in your favor and be reciprocated later on.
- ENGAGE: Once you are connected to someone, do not neglect the connection. If you are connected on social media, be sure to engage them every once in a while when appropriate or relevant. However, do not engage with someone or their posts insincerely – that sometimes is noticeable and subsequently off-putting.
- SUSTAIN: As you remain connected to someone, be sure to sustain the connection by checking in with them and their profiles when appropriate; especially on websites like LinkedIn. For example, if you have not engaged someone recently and you message them without realizing they have changed jobs or fields, that could be embarrassing for all parties since your reason for messaging them may no longer apply. So, it is best to keep up with your connections as best as you can to avoid these situations.
- SOCIALIZE: Lastly, when possible and appropriate, you should socialize with your connections authentically. From your boss to your coworkers, family, friends, and acquaintances, there are ways to socialize with everyone that is beneficial for you and for them. No text message or email can fully replace face-to-face interaction, so it is important for you to make time for them when it is realistic.
- RESPECT: However, you should exercise good judgment throughout this process so you do not overwhelm yourself, put yourself or others in a gray area, or devote resources to maintaining inherently bad connections. Some connections are just not worth the time or the effort to cultivate. So, you need to respect yourself, exercise self-care, and end connections when they no longer benefit you; or avoid establishing some entirely. In short, only connect with people who truly respect and appreciate you in both personal and professional settings because respect is essential to a healthy connection.