When I moved to DC from Pittsburgh, I thought I knew how to network and the importance of it. Networking in DC is required to survive – yes, I said survive. It is a vital part of how successful you are in the professional environment anywhere. It’s how you meet people, build your personal and professional brands and/or land career opportunities. It took me some time to get the lay of the land, but I’m acclimated to it now. I have leveraged networking to land my current position as a Community Outreach Specialist at Nspiregreen.
In 2016, I met Veronica O. Davis, my current boss, at a networking event. When I met Veronica, I was familiar with her company, Nspiregreen, and how they approached Transportation Planning and Environmental Engineering different. Shortly after our introduction, Veronica asked me “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” I was stumped. I prepared for all of the typical questions, but I wasn’t ready for that. We talked about other mind-boggling topics and went our separate ways after the event. I knew that the connection with Veronica was one to foster. Fast forward to 2018. I was scrolling LinkedIn and saw a job posting that Nspiregreen was hiring. Without question, I applied. Unfortunately, I did not get the job I was interviewing for, BUT I was offered a career opportunity that fit my skill set. I am now a Community Outreach Specialist at Nspiregreen. Understanding the five survival skills listed below has contributed to my experience to landing employment at Nspiregreen and building relationships in the world in general.
Networking isn’t one size fits all – Networking is a term that’s thrown around as a solution when you want to meet people, grow your business or do both. It was presented to me as the end all be all solution to me when I was new to DC. I want to make it known that networking isn’t always that simple. Sometimes you know what to expect with certain events, other times you don’t – like when I met Veronica. Approach the networking event with an open-mind but have a plan for why you are attending. It may be to get five email addresses or to engage one person. Make sure you have a plan and try your best to accomplish the goal that you set for the event. Don’t be so hard on yourself either. It takes time to find your pace.
Your career is your responsibility – Network with intent. Going to networking events to build your network is your choice and your responsibility. Be prepared by doing your research and figuring out why this event aligns with what your overall goal is. I would also suggest to research who will be at the event. Do a google search or a quick LinkedIn scan. Figure out how this event or the people at the event can benefit you and/or your career. For events that don’t list who is there, do a quick internet search at the event once you find out who is there.
My personal experience with taking control of my career began when I was new to the Transportation industry. I was previously in the Healthcare industry. I took the initiative to join WTS to get a better understanding of the ins and outs of what the Transportation industry had to offer. At events, I would ask people questions google couldn’t answer for me and I absorbed it all. My manager didn’t require me to join a network and attend events. I decided to do what I felt was best for my career. Learning the outside information served it’s purpose when I was responsible to write project descriptions and approaches for proposals.
It takes time and dedication to develop your network – The other individuals that you are networking with or intend to engage have their own agenda, too. You might not be a part of their agenda. That’s okay. Everyone isn’t meant for your journey and you’re not meant to be a part of everyone’s journey. To develop my professional network, I would ask people to have coffee or lunch with me. Before I met with them I would research them, listen to their interviews to get a better understanding of their work. It helped me ask good questions and not waste their time. During my time with them, I would use every opportunity to pick their brain about things I couldn’t find online. In my experience, the follow-up has been important because it’s a stepping stone of building that relationship with that person. For the real busy people, it gave them a chance to remember who I was and more of who I am. The follow-ups are not a one-sided interview. After meeting Veronica, I met her for coffee near her office. In hindsight, it was vital for me to do that because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have been successful in landing my job. Another point I want to stress about the follow-up is that it has the ability to change the narrative of when that person speaks of you from “I’ve met (your name) at an event” to “I know (your name)”. When people know you in an environment, that holds weight. Keep networking and remember to follow up!
Feel the fear and do it anyways – Understand that working a room by talking about yourself or pitching your skill set and/or company isn’t easy. You have to start somewhere though. The only way to master it is to keep practicing and realizing what strengths you have and what weaknesses you need to improve. When you understand your value, it shines through your communication.
Make it fun – Networking shouldn’t be a daunting task. It should be something you want to engage in. Make it work for you. Go to fun events, bring fun people with you or bring the fun with you. You might meet someone at a concert. Think outside the box. Be creative. Travel outside of your zone. That’s where the growth is.
I hope that my survival story has shifted, confirmed or improved your viewpoint of how you network. Remember to be great on purpose! I’d love to hear your survival stories. Comment below.
Christina Glancy is a Pittsburgh Native who serves as our Community Outreach Specialist. She has built a unique perspective which blends project management, marketing, community involvement and data analysis. She has a successful track record of engaging diverse groups of stakeholders throughout the Transportation, Health Care and Cybersecurity Industries. She believes in changing the world one conversation at a time.