If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “Networking is the key to success.”
Networking isn’t the only key to success, but it is a crucial piece to succeeding professionally. This is primarily because in order for students to do what they want to do, employers need to know what students want to do. And that is where networking comes in.
More than Schmoozing
When I started college, especially in film school, networking was a word that everyone said but nobody seemed to truly understood. In the beginning, networking sounded to me like schmoozing with people just to get a connection out of them – small talk for the sake of a job opportunity. And that didn’t – and still doesn’t – sound appealing to me at all.
This summer I visited with my high school principal. We had always been fairly close, and he was aware of my decision to move from Kentucky to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. I mentioned my current film internship and a recent writing job I had, and then it clicked with him. He finally understood that I wanted to be a screenwriter, which led him to tell me that his brother-in-law was the creator and showrunner for the CBS show “Elementary” which had just been renewed for a seventh season.
If I had not told Mr. Wheatley about my career interests, he never would have thought to mention his brother-in-law. In this case, all it took was me talking about my work and passions, and someone else was able to make the connection. My principal introduced me in an email to his brother-in-law, and I had the opportunity to meet with him for coffee. A month later I shadowed him for two days in his writer’s room in Hollywood.
This is networking: Being open about your goals so that other people can help you reach them.
In high school I heard a talk on networking. The speaker said something that has stuck with me four years later, and that was the term “gatekeeper.”
A gatekeeper is someone who can literally open a door for wonderful opportunities such a contact or employment opportunity. But what most people don’t understand is that it works both ways — just as they are a gatekeeper for outsiders, outsiders are a gatekeeper for them. As much as the employee needs the job, the employer wants someone who will do the job well. Candidates are helping employers as much as employers are helping candidates. This relationship often begins with just a conversation.
The heart of networking is getting to know people. While in one sense a student must determine if an employer is a connection to foster, it is important to get to know the employer as a person. “What do they do for a living?”, “What are they passionate about?”, “What are they currently working towards?” are some questions to help you get to know the employer.
This is where networking comes in.
When discovering more about the person with whom you are networking, begin to disclose more personal information. Below are some things you might share with employers:
- Any interests/goals in common that have come up in conversation. Highlight those.
Discover ways to mutually help each other. Networking is not an interview. This is a personal and comfortable interaction. This is not convincing employers of one’s ability to do the job, rather showing them passion and affability.
When the conversation comes to a close, this is the time to be the most upfront with the intent to network. Share contact information. Offer help on that project they are working on. Ask how to keep up with their company. Create a bridge for future conversations.
Networking is not a scary utilitarian tool for success. Networking is telling people about oneself and getting to know them in return. The more time spent getting to know people, the more connections are created, and soon enough a network of reliable sources for help, advice and hopefully a career opportunity have been created.
With the Career Expo coming up on Wednesday, October 24, let this be a challenge to attend and find an employer that clicks. Take their business card, call them the next day and ask them to grab coffee. The possibilities are endless!
Anna Matz is the Peer Internship Ambassador for the School of Cinema and Media Arts.