By Ashleigh Wilson
Networking, if executed properly, can open the door to an ideal job. Done poorly, it can transform the natural act of socializing into an awkward conversation.
Doug Mitchell, founder and project director of NPR’s “Next Generation Radio,” said networking is more than just exchanging contact information and meeting new faces. He should know — Mitchell has been training student journalists for 15 years with NPR.
“For me, the networking thing is not so much about meeting new people,” he said. “It’s meeting someone and then over a longer period of time and watching them excel.”
Networking is a strong skill to have as a digital journalist in a field heavily driven by word-of-mouth recommendations. The annual ONA conference can be a good place to find people with similar interests who can help professionally, according to attendees.
“It’s just an exciting conference where everybody is connected,” said Irving Washington, ONA’s deputy director. “It’s one of the few places where you guys can talk to a stranger, and they can be your friend by the end of the three days.”
Networking should be authentic — not just the opportunity to see what someone else can do for you, experts say. Rather than ask “what can you do for me?,” they advise job seekers to take the opportunity to show people who they are.
“Networking may be a person that can get you the job, or it can be connecting you to someone else that gets you to a job,” Washington said.
“I’ve literally seen how people make those networks, where they’re building relationships almost to the point where sometimes they’re never applying for a job. They’re always being recruited by somebody else because their network is so diverse.”
Gannett recruiter Antje Spethmann said networking involves more than just talking to people.
“Keep your damn LinkedIn up to date,” she said. “From the networking perspective, that’s where you start. Then you go to the conferences and you ask to meet people, and you keep a Rolodex of literally everyone that you’ve ever met.”
How do you make the first move or initiate the conversation? Below, are some life hacks for taking the work out of networking.
1. Don’t get intimidated.
The person you’re meeting was once in your shoes. Too often we become so consumed with the idea of networking that we forget that the people we are connecting with are regular folks like us. Whether talking to recruiters, hiring managers or directors, confidently introduce yourself, share your interests or ask how they got their start in the industry.
2. Never doubt the power of social media.
Are you a bit more introverted than others? Let social media take the anxiety out of initial connections. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are strong platforms to follow individuals and express your interest in connecting. Monitor the trending hashtag #ONA15 or the curated “Attendees at ONA15” Twitter lists to make new connections. By connecting virtually beforehand, you can immediately begin exchanging ideas.
3. Be authentic.
First impressions are hard to forget, and so is authenticity. No one enjoys meaningless conversations, so don’t start one. Don’t ask dull questions that you wouldn’t want to answer. Ditch the fake laugh. Actively listen.
4. Don’t limit networking to receptions or banquets.
Remember that networking can take place anywhere. Networking can happen informally over drinks, dinners, meeting in the elevator, sharing a cab, joining a Facebook group or grabbing breakfast. You never know to who that new face might be.
5. Always follow through.
You want to be the person they remember. Leave them your business card or portfolio, and be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn. Send follow-up emails reminding your connections who you are and how you met, and close by asking for another interaction, whether it’s reviewing your portfolio or meeting for coffee. Check in occasionally to share your current activities.
The most important tip? RELAX.
You are in the “City of Stars” and among great company here at ONA’s conference. Take advantage of the interactive sessions and hands-on workshops that ONA15 offers, but don’t work yourself too hard. You got this!
Still feeling a bit nervous about networking? Be sure to read Irving Washington’s “Strategy for Introverts” guide that is dedicated to #ONAIntroverts.