Over a year ago, I wrote two posts about networking at a business aviation conference. While networking seems like a no-brainer to those already in the industry, I found that it is difficult to break into the different groups as a student (and still do as a young professional). While some professors and advisors push networking, or provide different opportunities, I feel that many students do not network at all. For example: four years of higher level education, and many students have very few industry contacts outside of their university. This to me is a worrying situation as our entire industry is often based on the connections you hold with others, after they look at your resume, transcript, etc. In today’s post, I will discuss my top three reasons to network, no matter what industry you are in.
#3: Networking is Easy
For all the introverts, extroverts, skeptics, and everyone else in-between, I promise you it is not as intimidating as it seems. Sure, you say I have been networking several years and that it does not scare me. I am going to tell you a secret: I am an introvert and it scares me to death every time I go to a networking event. By nature, big crowds are not my thing and I would rather talk to a person one-on-one.
The key to making networking easy is practice. Simple ways of doing this are talking with new classmates each semester, getting to know your academic advisor, or other professors. You can even extend this into your personal life by engaging with friends, family, the community, or people in your church. Conversation is all about passing the ball back and forth. A good way to start is to say “Hi, my name is ‘x’”. They will usually respond with their name and what their title is, etc. This is a good time to ask them about how they got to where they are, about their airport/company/airline, and what they enjoy about their job. The key is to get the conversation rolling and you will find out what you have much in common.
Other ways of making networking easier is to smile, be friendly, use positive body language, and of course, PRACTICE!
#2: Networking is (Almost) Free
One day, you are sitting in class and your professor walks in with a visitor. This visitor works in your industry in a job that closely relates to your class and you are drawn in to their presentation about their position, the company they work for, and more. Maybe on another occasion, you find yourself traveling and while doing your homework, someone inquires about your field of study. Perhaps you’re at your favorite coffee shop and a fellow customer asks about your presentation.
These “happy accidents” happen at almost no cost to you as a student. They are often the by-products of classes you are already taking, professors and peers you interact with, or as simple as a passing comment to a fellow traveler as you are on vacation. Students are always on a budget, so it is important to realize that networking can cost you very little in the short term, but the intangible benefits are massive in the long term.
Let me give an example: Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a strategic planning session for the Great Lakes Region (GLC) Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE). This even was a happy accident as Grand Forks International Airport happens to be hosting their Winter Board Meeting in preparation to hosting the GLC Regional Conference. Our professor for Advanced Airport Operations knows many members of the chapter and arranged for us to attend a one-hour session during our normal class period. Many students carpooled and it only cost us the gas to get to the hotel. We met at least 20 different people in management positions at airports in the GLC Region.
My point is that networking can be very affordable for students.
#1: Networking is Always a Good Idea
Now, I am probably being obvious here, but getting to know those in your industry and field is always a good idea. It builds professional relationships that will last for years and you end up with a network that you can contact at any point.
For instance, I am working on a portfolio for my Advanced Airport Operations class that involves me answering various questions related to my field. In some cases, it requires a lot of research and personal interviews. I reached out to an individual who runs a small airport in the western part of the United States and interviewed him. This was all because I had applied for a job there and even though I did not get the position, he told me to contact whenever I needed something.
As my professor writes in her syllabus about attending class, networking: “it’s a good idea…”
I believe that networking is a valuable tool that we need to instill into our professional lives, but also encourage it in those around us whether a fellow coworker, a student, or a family member. I would not be able to network as well without the encouragement (and sometimes prodding) from those around me in many areas of my life.
I attribute my network to the individuals who are willing to just to have a conversation. And really, sometimes networking is as simple as a cup of coffee with a coworker – it is easy, cheap and always a good idea.
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