Networking for Novices: Trust Us, You’ve Got This!

Career Blog

Published: November 12, 2019 by Greta Snyder

Networking is a buzzword that draws out serious love-hate feelings. Just hearing the word right now your inner social butterfly may be fluttering, or perhaps you’re starting to shrink into a wallflower with horror. But, guess what, no matter whether you’re an extrovert or introvert or just new to the scene, you can improve your networking skills through learning strategies to up your game. Just meeting a bunch of people and being charming in the moment is not effective and avoiding anything remotely related to networking is a missed opportunity. Networking isn’t just all business, reserved for the outgoing or magically landing your dream job. Networking is building savvy, genuine, mutually beneficial relationships. So, time to take the pressure off; this is a chance to learn, be confident and genuine and realize how much this crucial skill can grow your career.

Networking is an LIS skill

The bottom line is you can’t thrive in your career without effective networking and networking is fundamental to the success of the LIS profession. Why? LIS professionals work in so many different roles across so many different sectors, serving a wide diversity of communities, clients and patrons, and relying upon strategic partnerships with key stakeholders of governing bodies, generous donors and crucial community leaders, so to bring it all together we must learn how to build and maintain relationships. This post will share some top tips for in-person and virtual networking and some ways to get your feet wet.

The longer you hesitate, the more you miss out on; it’s time to see networking as a key LIS professional skill. Per the SJSU MLIS Skills at Work Report, 68% of jobs demand communication and interpersonal skills, so becoming a networking pro is a great way to demonstrate your competency. As SJSU iSchool’s Career Development information on networking points out, networking “involves establishing relationships with people who will often become your friends and community of colleagues,” and these relationships are mutually beneficial. So, where to begin?

Tips to get started: online and in-person

Let’s start with some tips for both in-person and online networking:

  • Meet people through other people – ask for an in-person or virtual introduction to their colleagues or any influencers or leaders they know in the field or community. People are more likely to warmly welcome a friend of a friend. For example, ask your co-worker to arrange a lunch with their friend on the city council for the three of you to discuss community needs. Or, virtually, on LinkedIn see who has commented on one of your connections’ posts celebrating a recently published work and reach out to the commenter with a message to say “I see we were both excited about our mutual connection X’s new book. I’d love to connect so I can stay up-to-date on your research and writing as well.”
  • Leverage social media – I mean duh, but what does this mean? A few ways to start:
    • On Instagram or Twitter, follow SJSU iSchool, iSchool instructors, LIS professionals, libraries or institutions you’d be interested in working for or with and comment on posts.
    • Try out using #hashtags and @-tags like a pro to reach out. You can’t go wrong – you’re an LIS pro and it’s just using metadata to connect.
    • Retweet other people’s tweets to promote their work, events at the library, school, or organization; they’ll see and possibly follow back
    • Focus on relationships – effective marketing is fundamentally relationship building and this applies to self-marketing as well. As you develop your network and they see how engaged and passionate about LIS work you are, this will naturally generate opportunities. Suggest future collaborations with other professionals virtually and in-person, e.g., “I’d love to co-write a journal article with you on best practices for archivists working with born-digital files,” or “I think the makerspace you designed at your library is just incredible, I’d love to be able to learn more about how you approached this.”
  • Use your resume as a tool for advice (or your LinkedIn profile) – ask those you have connected with in the field if they might have time to review your resume when you’re job seeking. This is a great way for them to get to know your experience better(including things they might not have known about your skills and background), for you to receive valuable advice and for them to possibly suggest helpful new connections you should make or organizations to reach out to. Try it out with SJSU iSchool’s own incredible Career Consultant Jill Klees – read about my transformative experience here. Thanks to Jill, now my resume is way less of a hot mess.
  • Don’t take up too much time – even if you go down a deep rabbit-hole of LinkedIn click-to-connect with people you might know or feel overwhelmed at in-person events, remember brevity is the sole of wit (and networking outreach). To make a good first impression, keep it simple.
    • LinkedIn messages need to be short and sweet, e.g., “Hi, I’m a current SJSU MLIS student and came across your fantastic article on blockchain in my research. I’d love to connect and follow your work,” or “Hi, I’m a current MLIS student and see you work at my local public library as a manager. If you aren’t too busy, I’d appreciate any advice you have for how to grow my career in that direction, even if it’s just a recommendation or two.”
    • If meeting in person at an event or for coffee, think through your top questions or goals for the conversation. For example, perhaps “I am meeting this LIS instructor at a conference to seek advice on pursuing a PhD myself and will ask what I can do now to make myself a strong candidate,” or “I will introduce myself to the library director of the San Diego public library in order to express my appreciation for their recent marketing efforts and interest in developing my own local library’s marketing strategy.” Practice an “elevator speech” for yourself and, if applicable, your organization. See my examples from INFO 283 on Marketing and read more from the iSchool about your “one minute commercial” or “elevator speech” here.
  • Be an attentive listener – you might be marketing yourself, but again this is building a relationship and learning from others. To be a good conversationalist via messaging, email, or in person, you have to be an engaged and active listener.
    • Create quick notes; for example, at an in-person networking event write down a new friend’s name and maybe a quick fact, such as where they work or a shared interest, then follow up later on LinkedIn with a personalized invite.
    • Questions have to be tailored of course, but some general examples: What type of skills do you use the most in your position? What is the culture of your organization? What research projects are you currently working on? What is the biggest opportunity for your library? What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to break into the field? The main goal is to find out how they got where they are today and build connections through shared interests, values and challenges. And then if the conversation continues, you could also find out about where they work to see if it might be a good fit for you or if your skills could be marketed to the organization.
  • Prepare a short success story to share– be ready to go into conversations by having a happy-ending problem-solving story that might connect with the other person’s answers to your questions. For example, “Having time for professional development is a challenge for my library too, so I set up a voluntary, informal coffee talk that we hold every Saturday morning to share resources. They end up being very fun and a great way for staff to build relationships.”
  • Ask for suggestions on how to expand your network – while connections happen one at a time the goal is to turn one connection into a chain reaction. The person you’re speaking with might be aware of professional organizations, local groups, or contacts in your area that could be helpful.
  • Follow up –this is a great way to establish your credibility and investment in the relationship; some tips:
    • Use LinkedIn’s automatic alerts to learn about your connections’  promotion, work anniversaries or cool work projects, and then take advantage of the opportunity to drop a quick line. If you read an article that might interest one of your connections make sure to send it to them – it’s a great way to let them know you’re thinking of them and want to be a helpful connection when you can.
  • Always remember to say thank you – no matter where, time is valuable and limited. Thank them for any information they’ve been able to share with you and, when applicable, offer to reciprocate. Close the conversation by indicating that you’d like to stay in touch, e.g., on LinkedIn “Thank you so much for connecting! Really appreciate your offer to be a resource as I go into the field,”or in person, “Such a pleasure to meet you, thanks so much for taking the time to share your current work. I’m sure you have so many other people you need to touch base with, so I look forward to following up later on.”
  • Have an online presence – don’t be shy, it’s not a bad thing people are looking at your LinkedIn unless it is wildly out of date; so, keep it up to date and professional so you’re confident that what you’re doing is mirrored by your profile. Don’t over-think LinkedIn, but make sure it is an accurate reflection of what you’re doing and what you can do and provides an effective way for you to reach out further and demonstrate your skill in communicating via virtual platforms.

Final Thoughts

Networking is a crucial skill in the LIS field and one of the best tools for your job search. Be proactive in seeking specific connections and in your follow-up strategy to make sure you get the most out of in-person and virtual networking. Try to relax and have fun. Networking is one of things that really nobody wants to do when they hear the word, but everyone needs to do (and actually most of us enjoy it once the ice is broken). It’s easy to be closed off to possibilities, until you get out of your comfort zone and just start making those deep connections. LIS professionals are a community so let’s get together and build relationships to benefit our development. As the iSchool networking advice insightfully urges, “never underestimate an opportunity to make a connection.” Next week, I’ll dive deeper into some networking advice, but I’d love to hear any questions, advice or stories you might have about networking in person and online.

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