Navigating networking: YP style

By: Bridget Sullivan

A college student I’d never met before messaged me on LinkedIn. She’s like a majority of undergraduate millennials: competent, curious and searching for a way to land that job after graduation.  Believe me, I know the struggle.

Her message read something like this:

RE: Networking

Bridget Sullivan is social media strategist at 2060 Digital.

Bridget Sullivan is social media strategist at 2060 Digital.

“I am a college senior at (local university) majoring in (liberal arts), and I am looking to build a strong network before I graduate in May 2016. I would appreciate any networking advice you can provide.”

Networking advice from me? She must be joking. I’m a YP, emphasis on the “Y.” I’ve been employed for a little over a year and I’ve learned a lot. But I’m not an expert. However, I do abide by the old networking standard, “Fake it until you make it.”

Here are three (non-fake) ways to navigate networking:

1.  Embrace your fear.

Networking is intimidating for a YP. You’re young, you’re looking for valuable experiences, and, more often than not, you’ve got something to prove.

I’m here to let you in on a little secret: You should be nervous. Feeling anxious is a natural part of the game. Own it: Your vulnerability is your biggest asset.  By going to a networking event and approaching someone you don’t know, you’re sharpening your conversational skills and learning how to tell your own (captivating) story.

2.  Remember your intentions.

It’s important to remember why you’re playing the game. In order to become a networking pro, you’ve got to ask yourself the ‘tough’ career questions.

For reference, here are a few of my favorites:

  • What does my ideal work-life balance look like?
  • In what area do I need to grow or sharpen my skills?
  • What parts of my current job make me the happiest?
  • How can I integrate these components into my career?

Asking yourself these questions is rough, and sometimes, there is no easy answer. But here’s the sneaky cool thing about networking: you can ask those questions to other people.

For me, learning about someone else’s career/job/dreams has (2) awesome benefits.

#1: I can live vicariously through their experiences.

#2: After I hear their responses, I can listen to my gut and get a clearer picture of my goals.

3. Build a ‘big’ life.

Though it’s crucial to embrace your fear, ask smart questions and take (mental) notes, the important thing is to get out there

With each new conversation, you’re refining your story. You’re figuring out what you value and what drives you. When you network, you’re sharing your goals with strangers. What you might not realize is that you’re also creating new opportunities for yourself.