Demystifying Networking: The Art of Networking with Reginald Jackson
By Ashley Weiler
What do you think about when someone mentions “networking?” Do you think about a room full of professionally-dressed strangers with nametags? How about searching page after page on LinkedIn, connecting with as many people as you can? Maybe chasing people down with much busier lives than you, hoping they’ll spare you thirty seconds for an elevator speech?
Maybe you think about all of this and more, and maybe that’s made it too daunting to even think about how to get started. That’s the problem Reginald Jackson, Sr., MBA, ACC. sees all too often and wants to solve. Mr. Jackson’s session “The Art of Networking,” hosted on September 12 by the English Department Outreach Committee, aimed to demystify networking, teach necessary skills, and offer resources to build your personal network.
Mr. Jackson serves as a member of the International Coach Federation, an organization that spans 126 countries with over 25000 members dedicated to coaching to help professionals reach their personal and professional potential. And he knows about mentoring—his career includes 20 years in the Marine Corps followed by leadership positions in the IT industry since 2007.
The session began with pictures of three different scenarios, and Mr. Jackson asked which we considered networking: a crowded outdoor party with people of all ages, a massive college-aged pool-party, or room full of well-dressed professionals with nametags. Which did we immediately classify as networking? Why? One attendee suggested it was the way everyone was dressed in the photographs. Networking professionals dress professionally, not in swim trunks. Mr. Jackson immediately countered this—any one of these situations were opportunities to network. Where there are people, you can make connections.
Mr. Jackson then described how networking is organic, and can happen at any moment. Your classmates are your first network, and very likely to be your most wide-spread connections after graduation. Practicing introducing yourself now will make it more natural in future. And you never know who might be your next co-worker, client, or employer.
So how can you turn any conversation into a networking opportunity? By developing an adaptable Personal Mission Statement. Just like practicing a classic elevator speech, you need to discover what makes you unique and translate it into a concise and engaging statement. To develop yours, Mr. Jackson offered three steps:
- Problem: There’s a problem that your listener has and you can solve it. If they’re an employer, their problem is they need an employee. If they’re a client, they need what you’re offering.
- Solution: After you recognize their problem, offer your unique solution. Why are you the exceptional solution to their problem?
- Reward: Bluntly, what will they get out of hiring you? What can your business or skill provide that no one else can?
After you develop your Personal Mission Statement, all that’s left is to practice, practice, practice. Make it second-nature, and consider how to adapt it to a variety of situations. How would you deliver it at a business function, or a social event? How would you market yourself different to an employer than you would to a client? After you’ve practiced on your own, you can further hone these skills at job fairs on campus (even if you have no interest in actually applying!), or at GMU’s University Career Services.
To have us practice getting comfortable with networking, he told us to turn to our neighbors at the tables and spend thirty seconds each talking about whatever we could talk about all day. I paired up with Yan, a Chinese computer science student whom I had never met before. Despite an initial language barrier, we discovered we shared a mutual interest in art, and then in repainting old furniture. She eagerly shared with me pictures of her projects off her phone, and from there everything else came easily. Without this simple ice breaker, we never would have found out that we shared a common hobby.
And that’s really what makes GMU such a unique place—in that room alone there was at least two mothers with kids, three international students, seniors, and freshmen, all with their own stories and connections that they bring to GMU. The connections we could have made in that room alone would have been staggering.
But what happens when one of these connections fall short? What do you do when you reached out to an employer or potential connection, and you receive a letter of rejection or hear nothing back? Mr. Jackson also offered these critical tips:
- Follow Up: Maintain connections—whether with someone in your field who you meet at an event or with an employer who has sent you a rejection letter—and thank the person for his/her time. It’s a small gesture that makes a big impact.
- Silence isn’t Rude: If you don’t hear back, don’t take it as rejection. Everyone has a busy schedule and sometimes e-mails or phone messages slip through the cracks.
- No Connection is a Dead End: You met someone in the field, but they don’t know anyone hiring or looking for your service. Don’t cut ties just yet! You never know when they might need something you can offer, and what goes around always comes around.
As a transfer student and long-distance commuter, I’ve never been able to attend a professional seminar on campus, even though I’m graduating this December after two years at GMU. Despite this, it amazed me at how easily I slipped into this event and found the lessons applicable to my experiences. As Mr. Jackson explained how any situation could be a networking moment, I was reminded of a time three years ago where, walking my neighborhood for a community garage sale, I stopped to talk to one of my neighbors who’d previously been a stranger. A week later I was babysitting her kids, and two weeks later she invited me to go to a writing class in Los Angeles with her. Through that class I met New York Times bestselling author of Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo, and eight other authors-to-be. Previously I would never have thought something as commonplace as a community garage sale as a chance to network, but as that experience and Mr. Jackson’s presentation showed, opportunities for networking and making connections are all around.
To learn more from Mr. Jackson about how to network, check out his work online at:
This event was sponsored by the English Department Outreach Committee, which hosts professional development events for English majors and students around GMU every semester. For more information, contact Heidi Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 08, 2017