Network It Up!

Clearly, networking is important. Attending cocktail hours or “MBA networking mixers” here and there definitely works, but really, some of the best networking happens informally, everyday.

Think of your closest friends. You may have met in high school or college, or maybe at the gym. Perhaps you were on the field hockey team, or survived college physics together. When you first met, you probably weren’t thinking about how they might be able to find you a job later in life, or how you could work together, but that’s totally networking.

Men are great at this. Consider pickup football games: what is involved? A football and a stretch of grass. So simple, yet a few hours of touchdowns and field goals equals serious face-time with your new contacts. I’m not suggesting a woman should go invade one of these games (that would be awkward, for you, and for the guys), but I believe we can get better at this.

I am not saying that every player at Saturday’s pickup game is guaranteed a job interview, but I notice guys will help each other out in professional settings if they really get along in casual settings. Women can be just as good at this, but maybe go about it a little differently.

Recently, I decided I would eat lunch with someone new in my MBA program as often as I can. By aiming to meet someone new every month or so, even for a quick coffee break, I’ve been able to network without the pressure (or awkwardness) of a networking mixer. Need more structure? Consider joining a committee of a charity or your alumni association. There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people and expand your network.

Now, if you are gunning for an internship or looking to move up the ranks in your company, you probably want to be a bit more strategic. Is there someone who inspires you at your job? Maybe you want to do what your boss does. Ask her if she wants to grab lunch together. Try to develop a mentor-mentee relationship, but make sure it does not end there. The key to moving forward is getting that person to be your sponsor – someone who will vouch for you when you’re not in the room.

Don’t be afraid to self-promote a bit. There seems to be a negative view of “self-promoting” women in our society. But there is a way to take credit for your accomplishments and who you are without bragging (see: Penelope). Finding the right balance between the two can help you get where you want to go, and you’ll meet some new people along the way.

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