Friday, May 17, 2013

What is holding you back from networking?

I went to my first networking event less than three months after I graduated from my undergraduate university. I just moved to New York City and my alumni group was having a mixer at a local bar. I was never one for big events, but a friend had convinced me to go. There I met the COO of the corporation I worked for at the time. It was nice to meet him, but then what? What was I supposed to do to network with him? I was this low-level assistant designer. Why did this guy want a relationship with this underling in his company? I just felt awkward every time I saw him. It was difficult for me when I first started as a professional in the fashion industry. I was relatively shy and never wanted to overstep my bounds. I did not understand the value of networking. On top of not understanding, I did not feel comfortable asking people for help or input. Luckily, I got over it. There were a few things that helped me get there.

First, I figured out what networking actually meant. I originally made an incorrect assumption that networking was equivalent to using people I hardly knew to help me get ahead. There was something seemingly evil and manipulative around the word ‘networking’. I have no idea where I came up with that belief. It turns out networking can be whatever you want it to be. For me, I decided I would only ‘network’ with someone I truly wanted some type of long term relationship with. I wanted to make sure I could contribute as much as I took from the relationship. I was also very open to giving without getting anything in return. This helped to change my perception.

Second, as I matured in my career I lost whatever it was that made me shy. Maybe it was all the years in New York City, or giving countless presentations or maybe it was because I was growing comfortable in my skin, whatever the reason, I now have no problem picking up the phone or sending an email to a complete stranger. I often go with the ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ theory.

Third, I realized the value of networking. I will save details on this for another blog post, but the value of my network continues to surprise me.  I would almost refer to my network more as a support group. When my position was eliminated at a company I once worked for, I watched my network rally to support me. Eventually, what I would consider my personal team led me to several fantastic job opportunities.

Finally, I realized how much value I could add to others in my network. I can share my experiences and learning with someone else who hasn’t had that same experience just yet. With one phone call, I was able to help a friend fill an open position. If I don’t have the information someone in my network needs, I can refer them to someone else in my network who can help them. It is fulfilling for me to be able to help build connections for others.

What does networking mean to you? What can networking add to your career? How can you build a strong network that fulfills your vision? Where will you look to start building this network? What gaps do you have in your current network? How much are you contributing rather than taking? What is holding you back, if anything, from networking? Where can you start if you haven’t already?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

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