Social media and actual networking groups are very popular in today’s society. Although the technology has changed to shape the way we now network, the principals and purposes have remained unchanged. Your network of friends and acquaintances is critical to your success in business and your career. Your circle of friends certainly also adds to the enjoyment of life, too. Even the shyest person sometimes likes to be treated as though he is the special guest of honour. At restaurants and clubs, they discuss having the “hookup” or VIP treatment. Many people want it, but even money cannot always buy it. So, how do you get this special treatment? How do you get the coveted interview or meeting?
Your network begins at childhood. In pre-school or kindergarten, you begin learning how to make friends. You learn to share things as well as ideas. You learn to communicate with each other, regardless of your different backgrounds. You find similarities and explore differences. For most people, your parents are your role models and teach you how to socialize and get along with others. Your cultural exchanges expand and grow as you get older by learning the customs of your immediate society, including manners and etiquette, gift giving with reciprocity, introductions, thank you notes, etc. You learn what is expected of you when you interact with others, and these expectations vary with time as well as geographical location.
Once into high school, many people have already established certain “circles” of friends and relationships. Now you are thinking about college and realizing that you will have to establish new relationships. But which college do you choose? I usually ask my students: what is your major? What drives you? What are you passionate about? If you can identify one or more potential careers, then find a school that can meet those needs. Then how do you select just one school? THIS is where you look at the networking opportunities. People select an Ivy League school not just for the education, but for the connections it brings. A degree from a state school may show you have done the work and excelled in your selected field, but the same degree from an Ivy League school carries far more weight due to the status and connections. If you are a music major, there are schools that have the same “elevated” status for that particular field, even though the school may not be in the Ivy League. To aid with your acceptance, look for letters of recommendation from your parent’s friends, your teachers, your mentors in your church or other volunteer organizations, private instructors from music camps as well as locally. When selecting your school, please also take into consideration the professors with their connections, the alumni from that school, and other social organizations available within that school. These are all opportunities to make those connections and build your network for when you are seeking a job after college. Graduates who have been involved in social organizations and volunteer groups typically have higher placements into jobs in their field upon graduation as compared to those who only did the bare minimum to graduate.
Once into adulthood, your most prevalent communication tool is still a hard paper business or calling card. This card represents your status in an organization, and there is still a ritual of sharing and exchanging business cards. In Japan, there is a proper and improper way of exchanging cards. If you do business with a Japanese person or company, you are expected to understand and participate in this ritualistic exchange of cards and gifts. It is considered an insult to not be informed of their customs and traditions. Many other cultures have similar traditions. It is your job to do your homework and learn others’ customs if you plan to do business with them.
Every time I meet someone new, I know that this person is a new contact or connection. If the opportunity arises, I may ask for their card, or they may ask for mine. It does not matter the location or time of day. I have been asked for a card from someone in an appliance store who saw my violin case on my shoulder (I had just come from a wedding and did not want to leave it in the car while running errands with a family member). Not only has this person hired me for events and recordings, he has also become a family friend. There are countless other examples of odd meetings (at the car dealership, in a grocery store, on a train, etc.) You never know whom you will encounter, and where that connection may take you. Always be prepared with a physical business card to give to someone so that they may contact you.
Other opportunities for networks and connections include: unions, service clubs, professional organizations, volunteer organizations, churches, alumni groups, fraternities/sororities, and even online-only groups. In 1993, my husband and I joined America OnLine. I had won a free lifetime account (that was when you had to pay per hour of use), and my husband started a fan message board and discussion in the television forum. The show topic was exclusively “The X-Files.” The producers, writers, and even cast members from the show started showing up and taking part in the discussions for the next several years. In 1995, this online-only fan club decided to meet in real life. Several of the producers, writers and cast members actually showed up, too! They told us how the direct fan communication helped them shape their shows and story ideas, and how they had never witnessed this phenomena in all of television or movie history to the same extent as what was displayed here. They had “real time” access to the fans. From these connections, we made lasting friendships with other fans (still best friends today), as well as business connections with these Hollywood producers and networks for other projects since then.
In today’s instantly connected society, there are job postings that can be filled in a matter of minutes or even seconds, and you have to know where to look for these opportunities. Go back to what you learned in kindergarten and be open to sharing new ideas and creating new relationships. Groups on Facebook, followers on Twitter, notices from websites via text and e-mail – these are all wonderful examples of how you can be connected to get the job of your dreams or find the “hookup” for the special VIP treatment we desire. After all, according to Frigyes Karinthy, we are only six degrees of separation from everyone else in the world.