by Robin Dodge, Southern California Chapter
We’re a profession full of people who are ready and willing to help, to teach, and to mentor. Taking advantage of this and all the networking opportunities SLA offers will help you hone those soft skills that are so critical to your professional success. Some view networking as merely a way to find a new job or new clients. This is a big mistake. Nobody likes those people who show up for one event, scout the room for the right prospects, blow off the people they don’t think are useful to them, and then never show up to another event again. Networking offers all kinds of intangible benefits, when approached with the right attitude. If you invest the time in building meaningful relationships, you will grow personally and professionally, and you’ll be ready for that new opportunity when it comes along.
Spending the last year planning events for our Chapter, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for NOT networking or participating. I get it. You’re the busiest person on the planet. You think you have everything and everyone you need right within your own workplace. You’re not a social butterfly. You don’t have money, time, transportation, etc. You’d rather have a root-canal than drive across town during rush hour, or any hour for that matter. I’ve heard all of this and more, and at one point I was the one making these same excuses. But when you’re the one planning the events you have to go to all of them, and it changed my whole attitude about the importance of networking. Meeting, networking, and partnering with such a wide array of professionals broadened my perspective, increased my empathy and confidence, helped hone my critical thinking skills, and it’s been personally gratifying and fulfilling. Networking events are now much higher in my list of priorities. Your to-do list will still be there tomorrow, your email can wait, and that important meeting to discuss that important project for the gazillionth time probably isn’t really necessary. The monthly happy-hour or professional development seminar are much more rare and unique opportunities, and you should be taking advantage of them. Leave work early, drive across town, maybe even skip dinner with your family, and stop making excuses or waiting for the “next” event. (Yes, I said it. Your family will be there tomorrow, right along with your to-do list.)
If you don’t feel comfortable at networking events, and perhaps you don’t consider yourself to be very social, ask the event-organizer to give you a job to do. Then use that job as an excuse to talk to everyone you can. Or ask a well-networked peer to introduce you to a few others. Better yet, volunteer for a position on the Board of your Chapter or Division, and work your way into positions of increased responsibility. Once you feel comfortable with networking, reach out and help others become more comfortable with it. Remember that everyone has something to offer. You might not become fast friends with everyone you meet, but every single person who crosses paths with you has something to teach you. Making an effort to meet as many people as you can will provide you with all of those intangible benefits I mentioned, and it will lead to amazing opportunities, partnerships, and friendships. Soft skills are a necessity right now, and they are most definitely future-ready.
Robin Dodge is the Special Collections Librarian at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and President of the SLA Southern California Chapter.