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How To Network

4 tips to overcome the dread and make important career connections

By Lisa Szabo, '16 BA

November 23, 2020 •

If standing in a room full of strangers or hanging out in the corner of a virtual networking event gives you the heebie-jeebies, you’re not alone. The word “networking” can fill even seasoned practitioners with a sense of dread. But there’s a good case for facing your fears. Making connections can pave the way for mentorship, introduce you to niche jobs you’ve never heard of and open the door to new career opportunities. Amy Roy Gratton, a career education co-ordinator at the U of A Career Centre, shared her tips on networking with Matt Rea, ’13 PhD, in an episode of the podcast What the Job? From cold-calling a stranger on LinkedIn to striking up a conversation with your dream employer, Roy Gratton invites you to rethink networking. These tools could help you connect with success.

1: Rename it

If the thought of networking inspires more apathy than excitement, using a new term can help. “Even people who are really good at it don’t like the word ‘networking,’ says Roy Gratton. “It assumes that you’re using other people, getting to know them for the sake of getting to the end goal.” At its core, networking is about nurturing relationships with people — and that can include everyone from your morning barista to your current colleagues and future collaborators. Roy Gratton prefers language like building relationships, meeting people or problem solving, terms that are less transactional.

2: Make a personal connection

Whether you’re at a networking event or meeting someone in line at the grocery store, asking someone what they do for work can easily lead to dead-end conversations, says Roy Gratton. Instead, try to connect on a personal level. At one event, Roy Gratton started chatting with an executive by pointing out his cool socks. “People love compliments. So it starts a conversation,” she says. Leading with a comment about something engaging — like funky socks — will make the meeting memorable for both parties, plus, you’ll have a good conversation starter for the next time you see them.

3: Admit that you’re nervous 

If you’re new to networking and are anxious about saying the wrong thing, Roy Gratton recommends starting a conversation with someone outside your field before you head toward a potential employer. This will give you the chance to potentially trip up without feeling like you’ve sabotaged your career prospects. She also suggests being up front about your fears. “You can admit, ‘I’m really scared. I’ve never been to a networking event before,’” she says. Ask them if they’re nervous too. If the answer is “Nah, I’ve done this 100 times,” ask for tips. A seasoned networker can even guide you around the event and spark introductions.

4: Make the call

As someone who spends a lot of time cold-calling and emailing people in her role at the career centre, Roy Gratton has a good sense for what people are inclined to do. Calling someone on LinkedIn to tell them you’re unemployed and looking for work likely won’t yield very good results. But in her experience, people are often willing to talk to students or new grads who are interested in job shadowing or learning from an experienced person. “People are open to that,” she says. “They want to share what they know.” Log some practice hours over the phone or online with the Career Centre's Career Exploration Interviews or check out their free Speaker Series events for more opportunities to connect.

Listen to the full episode of What the Job? featuring Amy Roy Gratton or visit the U of A Career Centre for other networking tips.

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