When I think of the word “networking,” I think of one of the most cringe-worthy, awkward moments of my career. I was an intern at TVGuide.ca and was so excited to be assigned to cover the premiere of a new Canadian reality TV show called Peak Season at MTV Canada, where I would get to meet professional entertainment reporters and MTV staff. As a journalism student at Ryerson University, where professors repeatedly told me that networking was the ticket to employment, this was a big opportunity for me and I could not wait! Recorder and notebook in hand, I walked through the doors at Masonic Temple feeling optimistic… and then dread quickly hit. Every single person in that room was part of a clique and I clearly did not belong. I felt awkward, out of place, and a total misfit at this event. I hovered around various groups trying to pipe in but failing miserably. Luckily, a friendly fellow intern from another entertainment website seemed to recognize my discomfort and joined forces with me; we bonded together to endure the event, both sharing in the other’s pain.
While my in-person deliberate networking attempt was a complete failure, my hobby actually proved to be a very useful networking tool for me. During breaks between classes, studying, interning and finishing assignments, I loved tweeting about entertainment news and blogging about pop culture. I genuinely enjoyed doing it and wasn’t viewing it as a networking tool, but it became a great way for me to connect with industry professionals, show my expertise in the field, and publish my writing without it being touched by an editor. Because of my tweets and my blog, I was offered freelance writing opportunities, connected with a mentor at Breakfast Television, strengthened my portfolio, and was able to demonstrate my social media knowledge when I applied for the full-time job I have now. Perhaps it was because I was genuine and authentic – and not trying to network – that social media served as such a great networking tool.
It’s funny how I didn’t view my entertainment tweeting and pop culture blog as networking at the time, but in hindsight it is so clear to me that those were such effective networking tools for someone starting their career. Which is why it’s also funny to me, now that I’m writing this blog post, that I thought I had shut the door on networking six years ago when I was hired full-time.
But I never stopped networking; I just changed the reason why I networked. I wasn’t networking to find a connection for a job, I was networking to do my job more effectively. As Social Media Officer at an Ontario college, I network with faculty, staff, students, and community partners. But I don’t network for work opportunities, I network to encourage more followers on our social media accounts, I network for content ideas, I network to increase engagement on our channels, and more. The more I network, the more effective I am at my job.
So now that I’ve realized that I have been effectively networking this whole time, I’m considering ways in which I can continue to develop my networks.
In person, I will network through meetings, campus events, community functions related to the college, and local networking events for young professionals. Online, I will continue to use Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram to network (I prefer to use Facebook for close friends and family).
And to grow my new hobby, book reviewing (here’s a shameless plug for my blog and Instagram), I will aim to post consistently (Monday to Friday on Instagram and a new blog post every Monday) and engage more with other Instagram accounts (comment, follow, like, DM) to grow a strong network in the Bookstagram community. I will also read more blogs on WordPress and comment on those of interest to get my name out there.
I think perhaps the secret to successful networking, for me in any case, is to not try too hard. When I went to that initial event as an intern, I was too eager and, well, too desperate. No one wants to chat with someone who is just there to collect business cards and harass for job opportunities; they want to chat with someone who shares a genuine interest in something and who wants to hear what you have to say.
Be authentic, be genuine and be yourself.
What is your secret to successful networking?