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It’s About Who Knows You

by on June 14, 2019

Networking: love it or hate it, it’s tough to ignore this facet of the modern career. Many experts tout the importance of making connections in order to further one’s career, but it can be difficult and overwhelming to get started.

If the idea of networking makes you antsy, you are not alone. The thought of putting yourself out there in front of strangers can be daunting for anyone, but it is likely especially nerve-wracking for librarians. According to a 1995 study by Mary Jane Scherdin and Anne K. Beaubien, 63% of library workers surveyed identified as introverts.[1] Thanks to the recent rise of introversion in popular culture, due in no small part to the prevalence of works like Susan Cain’s 2012 book Quiet, this number has likely at least remained stable, if not increased.            

As an introvert myself, I recall being absolutely terrified before attending my first library networking event. The idea of making small talk with strangers was overwhelming, and I wasn’t completely clear on what I was setting out to accomplish for the evening. That event turned into a success once I settled in and made a couple of new friends, but, looking back, I do wish I had been more educated on the importance of networking before I started.

In an article for Business Insider, Rishi Chowdhury argues that networking has an incredibly high rate of return for the time invested.[2] Ultimately, Chowdhury writes, networking is “not about whom you know, but rather who knows you.” Networking can pave the way for future opportunities, allow you to learn from key players in your field, and provide inspiration for your own work.

Personally, I have found this to be the case in my own career. For example, I was directly requested to apply for my current position; although I did not personally know the member of the hiring committee that reached out to me, she had heard about my work from our mutual connections. Through community networking, I have also found many strong opportunities for free or low-cost programming at my library.

Networking doesn’t have to be intimidating; nowadays, there are many approaches to suit different personality types and comfort levels. One way to ease into the practice is through committee work and professional organizations. This approach is helpful in the sense that you already have something in common with the professionals you’ll meet – a shared career interest (e.g. youth services, management in libraries, etc.) or demographic identifier (e.g. local women’s groups, etc.). Networking can also be virtual. ALA maintains a robust selection of email listservs, and 5 Minute Librarian maintains several lists of library-centric Facebook groups. Of course, many traditional networking events still exist, and speed networking is even available to those short on time.

How to make the most of networking once you’ve narrowed down your chosen approach? One of the top pieces of advice I can offer is to be genuine. Just as you need to keep in mind that the colleagues you’re meeting are just regular people, you must allow your own personality and passion for your work shine through. This not only will make you feel more comfortable because you won’t need to focus on putting on an act, but it will help others remember you in the future. Smiling and putting on a friendly face will also naturally help ease any nerves you may be experiencing.

In the same vein, try not to view those you’re connecting with as just numbers to add to your LinkedIn contacts. Creating a personal connection with someone will likely bring about more opportunities. After all, wouldn’t you be more interested in working with someone who shows interest in your role than someone who seems to be using you to get ahead? Who knows; even if this new contact does not wind up helping you in the career sense, he or she may become a friend. Alison Green offers more tips on creating a lasting network here.[3]

Forbes offers several more pieces of advice as well.[4] Much of the literature surrounding networking shows one key takeaway: when done well, it essentially boils down to meeting others and sharing your career passion with them. If you think about it that way, I promise it won’t seem as scary or overwhelming.

How has networking helped you as a librarian? Do you have a favorite piece of networking advice? Share it in the comments!

[1] Mary Jane Scherdin and Anne K. Beaubien, “Shattering Our Stereotype: Librarians’ New Image,” Library Journal 120 no. 12 (1995): 35-38.

[2] Chowdhury, Rishi. “The Importance of Networking.” Business Insider. May 26, 2011. Accessed March 29, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/the-importance-of-networking-2011-5.

[3] Green, Alison. “Does Networking Have to be Slimy?” The Cut. March 13, 2018. Accessed March 29, 2019. https://www.thecut.com/article/ask-a-boss-does-networking-have-to-be-slimy.html

[4] Forbes Communications Council. “10 Networking Tips to Help You Make a Great First Impression at an Event.” Forbes. April 23, 2018. Accessed March 29, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2018/04/23/10-networking-tips-to-help-you-make-a-great-first-impression-at-an-event/#1c8ed99e301b

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