Many friends and students I work with at the GW Center for Career Services have talked to me about how they are often put off by the idea of networking, usually for two reasons. First, it’s hard; second, they see it as fouled by flattery and the pursuit of one’s selfish advantage.
While I partially agree with the first assessment, I feel forced to debunk the second. Networking is a key component of the current job market and, if understood properly, can help you get to know yourself better while you chase your most ambitious goals. Along the way, you’ll also meet wonderful and inspiring people that can help define your professional career.
As do many GW students, I started my freshman year with a tentative idea of what I wanted to do, but with no clear path to get there. In defining that path, I gradually developed a more proactive personality that became useful in tracing my own route. Especially after the end of my sophomore year, I came to realize the importance of communication, determination, positivity and, yes, networking in one’s professional development.
Following my best academic semester to date and my acceptance of the Career Ambassador job for the Center for Career Services in May 2015, I was determined to seek the best opportunities possible. To do this, I established four simple steps that have been crucial for my own professional growth so far.
- Get to know yourself professionally: Discover what you like and don’t like in a work environment, and jot down the positive qualities you can bring to a position. Although your first instinct might be to just “go with it”, engaging in this thought process can help you express your thoughts more clearly and use the messages that are most relevant to a particular job.
This process can be completed in several ways. The first –and obvious- one is to work! While you do it, pay close attention to what your strengths are. What do you excel at? In which areas do you need to improve? What makes you passionate? Answering these questions will prepare you to define your interests and brand yourself to a potential employer.
Beyond that, be thoughtful of your personal strengths as well, since a substantial component of networking is combining your personal and professional traits. How do you connect better with people? Do you like portraying positivity, security, and/or openness in a conversation? This doesn’t have to be a textbook exercise, but being aware of your own attributes will help you succeed in any setting. Since we all mature and evolve with time, don’t expect this process to ever end.
- Set short and long-term goals: I’m a big proponent of carpe diem and living the moment, but I also believe that setting goals can help you enjoy those present moments even more. These don’t have to be set in stone, but having a sense of direction can help you decipher your next steps.
If you’re unsure of what your goals are, steps 3 and 4 can potentially help you to determine those. After all, a reasonable short-term goal is to establish bigger goals, so long as you make an active effort to meet your objective.
- Push your boundaries: And I mean PUSH. Don’t settle for the comfort zone and don’t disregard possible opportunities because they seem hard to achieve. If you work hard on both your credentials and on building a strong network, the results will come.
Seek feedback from those who have had experience in your fields of interest. If you’re taking classes that you really like, look for your professors’ curriculum vitae (CV) online and read about their work and experience. After that, meet with them to talk about your interests and obtain their perspective. You never know what can come out of that conversation.
Similarly, don’t be troubled by the idea of contacting someone within a company or organization. A great way to network is to ask someone about his or her experience. Some might not respond, but you’ll never know unless you try. If it’s over email, phone, or coffee, every bit of information will help you trace a clearer path for yourself. Plus, these contacts might be beneficial for a future job hunt.
Finally, once you’ve landed an internship or job, make sure you do more than just producing quality work. Build a strong working relationship with your peers and always be willing to move around and meet new people. Talk to your supervisors about their experience and provide your insight. Doing this will mean a better experience for you and a stronger set of connections.
- Take advantage of available resources: Some of the things I have mentioned in the three previous steps require practice and guidance. That’s what the Center for Career Services is here for. If you want to learn more about writing the perfect resume and cover letter, interacting in networking events, looking for potential jobs or internships, or even writing a professional email, our career coaches and ambassadors can provide instrumental support.
Likewise, take advantage of the various programs that are designed to facilitate internship, work, and educational opportunities. The perfect example is the Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund (KACIF) that helps students every semester deal with the financial burden of an unpaid internship. This is a resource that has made my current internship at the DC Superior Court possible. If you take the time to complete these applications thoroughly and project your professional and personal traits, you’ll have a much better chance of being selected.
Don’t be put off by the idea of networking and seeking opportunities. Yes – it can seem uncomfortable and even superficial at times, but you don’t have to see it that way. Choose to see it as an opportunity to show who you really are and what your skills are. Plus, it’s a vital component of the contemporary job market. If you embrace this reality, you will have more control over your own future.
“Virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in heaven. To succeed in this world, you have to be known to people.”
– Justice Sonia Sotomayor
KACIF provides grants ranging up to $3,000 to current GW students pursuing unpaid internships in their field. The GW Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund applications must be submitted by Friday, July 15.