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3 Things that I wished I had known about Networking before starting at 24?

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So in the vast world of jobs and employment it would seem that there are endless opportunities for someone. Well, that is unfortunately not always the case. Instead, the increased employment has actually left a very stale market; one in which the only way to really get ahead is to network.

Well, for a little background, I was hoping to become a professional sports executive and currently work in digital marketing. I ended up at a damn good school in the South East United States, one of the best in the country to be exact. With my knowledge of everything media I quickly learned towards the end of my time in undergrad that the jobs for those that want to pursue a career in media or in a “cool” job are limited. Well, as a 22 year old thinking that the world owed him for all of his work, I did not understand that you need experience to do anything. Having never had a real job before, it was difficult to even get an entry role in anything. Well it took me to be 24 years old to begin networking. The problem was I had never networked and therefore I had to learn some things along the way.

1. Don’t treat it like you’ll be getting a job right away

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So, the biggest lesson that one can learn by networking is what they really want. So if you are looking for a job, I advise that networking, although a good strategy, does not always get you the job right away. If a company has no vacancies there is no point in networking right? Wrong. You should always work on building your own book of business. Treat it like a door to door sales opportunity. You may not get what you want right away but the future may bring you something far more valuable.

With this lesson in mind, you never want to initially ask things such as “hey, can I have a job with you or your company” or “I want your specific job.” I know this sounds like common sense but answering honestly lead me to discover this harsh truth. I have played the game, for the most part I was more interested in the job that the person had than the industry they were in. For instance, I know nothing about finance but I networked with an analyst to learn about analyzing data, financial or otherwise. I asked simple questions such as what would you tell someone who wants to get into this particular field or even do something similar. Sometimes they can even provide you with even more people to network with. Often times in these conversations the last question is usually something along the lines of “is there anyone else from your company or someone that you may know who I could speak with?”

2. Pick your battles; find your end goal

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This tip may seem a little harsh to be honest, but it is the truth. Networking is exactly like war. It’s easier now than it was when our parents and our parents parents were looking to make a way in the world but it still is not as easy and sending an email and waiting for a response. You have to be calculated and cool about it. Use the tips from the first statement, proofread your message a million times if you have too before you send it into the world. Believe me, you’ll be thankful later. If writing is not your forte, make it your forte. As someone who deals with poorly written work on a daily basis it is a pleasure to read an email that is fine tuned and makes someone seem like they took the time to be clear about something. If your email looks like it was thrown together in 5 mins than its going to be perceived that way.

Personally, I prefer to speak to people over a Zoom call, Whatsapp, google meet, or even a phone call. Speaking to people is and has always been my best skill. However, emailing is a good way to interact with people too. However, it sometimes takes days, weeks and even months for someone to reach out to you, if they even reach out at all. In the corporate world, asking someone to take 10-15 minutes for you may seem like a lifetime to them depending on what they do but if they take it then use all the time that they give you. Talk about yourself, your goals and potentially what you want to do. Ask them about them because that is what you came to do right. If you don’t’ ask, don’t be surprised by the results. Asking questions shows interest. If you set time for a 30 min call, you had better have enough questions in the backburner to supply you with 30 mins of banter.

There is nothing like going into a networking conversation unprepared, you have to know what questions you want to ask. Now, in the case of meeting someone on the fly this is different, still come prepared but usually by then it just becomes natural. Treat is like war though, don’t just win the battle, win the war. Sell yourself to them, if they do computer networking, as them how they got started involved and who they might know. If they work in tourism, ask them what its like to give tours to tourist. Its simple, but unless you’ve done it before, I wouldn’t advise asking.

3.Opportunity walks past you and you don’t even know it

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As the great (Captain) Jack Sparrow said in Pirates of the Caribbean #2, “I love those moments and I wave at them as they pass by.” Well in the case of networking opportunities you shouldn’t be doing that. Networking is something that we should all be taking advantage of. However, it is your choice should you not take advantage of it. Most of the time, it walks right past you and you do not even know it. That is not to say when you go to a bar or a restaurant you should talk with everyone, but know who you want to talk with.

Being someone who is generally standoff-ish towards people, it can be a little intimidating to talk with people face to face out of nowhere. Hence, the LinkedIn approach which allows me to message on a larger scale but also to be more formal about it. Instead of coming off the cusp. The downside to LinkedIn is that its not always the most effective way to reach out to people and can seem a bit rude or off-putting if you send the same message.

Final Thoughts

Networking is one of the most complicated things to do if you do not like talking to people or reaching out to people. It’s like a guy being too afraid to ask a girl on a date; what is the worst answer that they can give you back? You need to understand that making an impact on others can help you in the long run. Your network can never be too big, it can only be too small. For those of you in the job market right now who are younger than 21, I encourage you to start networking as soon as possible.

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