By Akosua Asare
Networking is truly a skill you must build. If you’re like me then you’ve heard about the importance of networking all through college and then quickly learned in your big-girl job search that they were right… it’s about who you know.
I’d say networking and meeting the right people (and pitching yourself properly or building a bond with them) is more important than how perfectly you write a cover letter, how neatly you style your resume, and how creative you get while building your portfolio. You can get a degree, the internship experience, even pick up a few extra certificates and trainings and still not beat the person that knew how to track down the hiring manager and schmooze their way into the job you wanted.
For many people, networking seems intimidating or so inauthentic that you cringe at how forced and performative it feels. How often are we networking to actually build community and professional relationships, and how much of networking is just exploiting each other for benefits?
My struggle with networking
The inauthentic feel of networking is my biggest struggle. The corporate persona in general is hard for me because it’s so not who I am at my core. The corporate dress, lingo, “professionalism”, how you must present yourself– I’m always too conscious of what these standards are rooted in and the hurdles it creates for people. (We all know professionalism and all its rules is rooted in all the -isms and -phobias, right? We don’t actually have to get into that right now).
My point is that, for me, putting it on feels… wrong. Something in me tells me to rebel against it. And for the most part I’ve decided to not push myself into any performative corporate-appropriate behavior that feels silly to me. (Until, of course, I have no choice to conform for my own survival). Which is why I probably won’t have my best luck at business-attire networking conferences or any space that’s not interested in meeting who I really am.
So how am I navigating networking?
Believe it or not, I think I might be doing well enough with networking without performativity. I still have to do it, we all do. So what insight could I provide to someone looking for tips on how to network themselves into an opportunity? Let’s see!
LinkedIn, she’s your friend!
Yeah, obvious, I know. But there’s so many tricks to using LinkedIn effectively that I’m still learning. For one, connecting with the person that would potentially interview and hire you for that job you just applied for.
LinkedIn has that premium subscription (that I refuse to spend my own money on) that sometimes hides who hiring managers are if you don’t have it. Thank goodness for TikTok because I learned THE trick for finding who that recruiter might be (or just the person you’d report to in the position, which can make for an even better connection) and how you can reach out to them about the position you want.
Another LinkedIn trick: Go to the company page that you want to work at and find who works there that went to the same university that you did. You’d be surprised who’s willing to help a fellow [insert mascot name here].
Similar tactic, different method: In a corporate world that is not as inclusive as it should be, connect with people like you because real community is often built in shared struggle. Find the fellow women, POC, plus-sized, LGBTQ+, etc. and connect with them over shared experiences and even advice they can offer to someone like them.
Finding people who went to my college and who are fat women who love fashion like I do has connected me with more people in the fashion and editorial industry than I thought it would.
Talk to panelists
Let’s say you found a conference or panel event to go to. Chances are you picked one based on your interests and career goals. Don’t just talk to the people who also attended (although that’s definitely important). If you get the chance, prepare a question for the professional you felt the most inspired by and have a conversation with them. You might learn something else that wasn’t discussed on the panel.
Find an online community
Online communities are said to be the direction that social media is headed with apps like Geneva, Slack and Somewhere Good. There are so many online communities that live on Instagram. Chances are you already follow some of them just by following pages that inspire you or speak to you.
I found GenZ Girl Gang, an online community for GenZ women and femmes looking to redefine sisterhood, create/share opportunities, and support one another. That online community has done wonders with connecting me to people all over the US with similar goals and interests. I got to be myself amongst people like me (or like themselves, but with no problem building power in network with me as I am). I literally got a job as GGG’s content strategist by being an involved person in the community.
Being yourself– it really works
Honestly, I proudly credit being my authentic self as what’s gotten me everything I have. Maintaining my rotation of vibrant hair colors/styles and how I present myself creatively, speaking out about things I care about online, putting myself on display and the creative things I do for fun has gotten me more than any stiff corporate persona ever has.
This could be easy for me to say because I work in a creative field, so of course being a “colorful” person works out for me. But everything that has made sense for me came to me. Being my authentic self keeps me in spaces and with opportunities that I genuinely enjoy. It’s not impossible I guess, but getting what you really want by being somebody else doesn’t sound practical. In being myself, I continue to get lucky with opportunities that align with that. So I’m never in a space where I have to continue to perform or exist unhappily.
I know I literally started this by saying “it’s all about who you know”, but I got my job at Sesh without knowing anyone. Maggie and Meredith seemed to really like that I showed up to our Zoom interview and talked about how I’ve scolded my supervisors in the past and risked arrest in protests. And now I work in a space that values community, advocacy, and networking over cocktails. 🥂