Today we’ve got a fantastic guest post by Ellen O’Hehir, ALIA Students and New Graduates Group National Co-Convenor. We’re learning here at NLS8 HQ that when you ask for guest posts, library folk are very obliging! Enjoy Ellen’s wise words…
With NLS8 coming we want to give you some tips on how to get most out of the networking opportunities at the conference and more in general.
Networking; a word that makes most people want to run for the hills. But networking doesn’t have to fill you with anxiety, dread and a dry mouth. It is a crucial skill that everyone needs to develop as they prepare themselves for entering the workforce and, once you’ve got a job, to ensure that you keep getting better positions as your skills increase.
Breaking down what ‘networking’ is can be the first step in feeling OK about it and motivated to start putting it into practice in your everyday life. Essentially, networking is the professional equivalent of making friends, or at least being polite, interested in what other people do and relating it to your working life. You listen to people and they listen to you, you give and receive advice and you start to build a supportive community around you. Taking the time to focus on developing your networking skills is well worth the effort. You’ll feel part of something bigger than yourself, you’ll have a group of people that you can turn to for advice and support and you’ll be afforded opportunities and connections that will be beneficial for your career.
Networking can get you to places that you never even knew existed and it can give you long lasting professional friendships that you’ll carry with you for all of your working life.
Build yourself up to it gradually – if you’re feeling anxious about talking to people then start small. If you are studying then use your classmates as practice. Speak to fellow students you’ve not connected with. Ask them about their career goals and interests and share yours. The information management community is a relatively small one so chances are that the people you are currently studying with will be your future colleagues. Use your lecturers as practice. Invite them out for a coffee to learn more about how they got to where they are. If you’ve already got an information management job then practice on your colleagues. Go introduce yourself to a colleague that you pass all the time but don’t know their name or what they do.
‘Practice makes perfect’ – it’s a cliche for a reason – it works! If you run into some awkward conversations or stumble on your words don’t let that deter you! We’ve all forgotten someone’s name, or called them by another name or had a coughing fit mid way through a conversation. Do as Aaliyah does and ‘dust yourself off and try again’. People who make it look easy have themselves had to practice. Spend some time thinking about your professional goals, what your skills are and where your interests lie and then you won’t be lost for words when someone asks you about them. Networking is a skill and you can get better at it if you practice!
Talk to everyone – don’t think that you have to aim to speak to only people in senior positions to get ahead. Taking in an open, friendly and professional way to EVERYONE in your professional orbit is the way to go. You never know who you’re going to connect with and which people will offer you opportunities. If you’re an introvert and this feels overwhelming then aim to get to know one new person each time you attend an event. Setting this goal will allow you to accomplish something and soon you will notice that it is not a scary as you first thought!
Share – networking done well is when both parties get something out of the connection. This can sometimes put students and new graduates off as they think “What can I offer, I don’t even have a job?”. No! You have heaps to offer. A person more advanced in their career might be wanting to hear what’s being currently taught in the course you’re enrolled in or you might have a whole lot more knowledge about tech stuff that they do. Don’t keep information to yourself. The more you share the more you’ll benefit. We have an excellent profession that encourages openness and giving back.
Follow up – if you meet someone at a conference or get-together that you’d like to connect with send them a follow up email and find them on Linkedin and Twitter. Don’t be shy! People love making new connections and they will admire your proactive approach.
Join a professional group like the ALIA Students and New Graduates Group or GLAMR New Professionals – *disclaimer: I’m one of the ALIA Students and New Graduates Group Co-convenors, so of course I’m going to say join a professional group. But it’s super beneficial. You’ll make connections with your peers and when you run events you’ll be contacting senior people like university librarians and managers of public library networks. You can gain a heap of soft skills by joining a professional group, you’ll feel like you’re part of a community and any volunteering that you do looks excellent on your CV. Get in touch if you are interested!
Volunteer – so that leads me to my next DO, which is to volunteer. You can draw on experiences you have in your volunteering capacity when answering key selection criteria, you can learn from more senior people and you can get a feel for different working environments. If you want to work in public libraries or in archives if would seem like a good idea to find out what the actual work is like!
Be on the lookout for professional events, talks and get togethers – ALIA and other professional organisations will run events that are often free throughout the year. Check ALIA Students and New Graduates group Facebook, Twitter and Blog for events that are held in your area and go to one! These will be friendly and open environments where people will want to speak with you.
Get a mentor – one great way to get better at networking is to find a mentor that can encourage and support you and who can introduce you to other professionals. Take time to choose a mentor. You’ll meet someone only if you attend events and talks so get out there! You might feel intimidated asking someone to be your mentor but what have you got to lose? If they say no, then so be it. You’ll find someone else.
Create a Linkedin profile and use a social media account like Twitter or Facebook – hating social media is not going to cut it in this digitally connected world. Having a professional social media presence is a must. Create a LinkedIn profile and create a Twitter account and follow the leaders in our profession. ALIA’s New Generation Advisory Committee runs #auslibchat, an Australian & NZ centred professional discussion on Twitter on the first Tuesday of every month at 9pm AEST. Get tweeting!
Spend hours talking about yourself – if you do this then it will put people off. Take the time to ask questions and listen. Full on self promotion is yucky.
Don’t always gravitate to the same people at professional get-togethers – don’t get into a rut of speaking to the same people at the events you attend. It is tempting to do it when you feel anxious but push past your anxiety and go and meet new people!
Don’t be afraid! One last tip, don’t be afraid. Ask for help and know that you are not alone. We have to build the professional community that we want to work in and it all starts with you!