I think this is an interesting question to sink my teeth into, and with her permission, I’ll answer the question she raised here.
OK, permission granted. Let’s call her “Q.”
First off, Q, I would forget about all that was learned in school. Not that it wasn’t interesting or valuable, it is just that so little of it is applicable that it is better to focus your energy on other things than trying to remember or use everything you learned. When you need it, it will be there, so relax . The workplace is not just another step from your masters, like a PhD might be. Outside of the classroom (in which you have spent probably 20 years of your life) the rules are very different.
This I know from experience… I graduated thinking that I should be using as much of my classroom learning as possible, but in retrospect it was just not as important as just about everything else I will mention here.
I would focus on the following:
- Developing the critical interpersonal skills that you will need forever but did not even begin to learn in school. I would look for skills that help you give feedback, communicate, sell, public speak — all those skills that involve speaking and listening. I would sign up for every course possible, because you can never get too much of them. Join Toastmasters and get lots of practice speaking in public.
- Start reading books and taking courses that require serious introspection into why you do the things you do, and don’t. Start to learn about what makes you tick. Take diagnostic tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, read books such as “The Road Less Travelled” and take personal development courses that help you think about your career. The sooner you decide what your passions in life are, and face up to the kind of courage it will take to pursue them, the better.
- Find some good people to emulate. This might be the most important. Don’t copy them, but learn from them, taking the good and leaving the bad. Understand that you will outgrow them at some point, but until you do, learn.
- Work with people who will stretch you. Look for tough projects to volunteer to be on. Often, the best people are attracted to the most challenging projects. You will be networking with them as you work alongside them. Stick your hand up and volunteer to come in on weekends and to stay late to work with them.
- Pick a single area you are interested in and learn everything there is to know about it in your job. Become the expert and go WAY beyond what people are asking you to do and be. It may not pay off for a year or two, but when it does, it will.
- Look for chances to take a leadership role in ANYTHING. At this point in your career, if they have a Garbage Committee, you should be trying to head it up! If there are no such teams, then form them. As a young employee I helped to start a group called “The Gang of X” in my department, from our my own initiative. It was not just fun, it was quite an empowering experience as we looked at ways in which the department could improve.
- If you get bored on the job for more than a few days, get yourself going by asking your boss for more to do. If you find yourself bored for weeks on end, then for the sake of your career you need to quit.
- If negative people like to spend a lot of time hanging around your cubicle, “run dem.”
- If you ever find yourself holding on to a job for the money, know that it is the beginning of the end, and that you have given up on being a professional. Just because everyone else you respect might be doing the same thing, that means nothing in the grand scheme of things in which your self-esteem and respect are more important than your pay.
- If you fail to keep in touch with people, read The Tipping Point where Gladwell talks about mavens. Find excuses to stay in touch by sending material that you find of interest to see if they also might be interested. I regret not doing this earlier in my own career. This takes tons of time, and you will do it clumsily at first — just make sure that the things you send out are truly of interest to YOU, and not just done because you should.
For example, I am sending out 500 Christmas cards this year to fellow professionals in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and the USA. They are all hand-written. Many gasp at the idea (and the cost), but the first few times time I saw a card I sent on the wall of a couple of different people I did business with, I realized that I had discovered something of value.
I am not saying that you should use this particular method yourself, but you must develop one that you authentically enjoy.
Q, I hope this helps. If you recall from my conference presentation, I believe in starting with what you are passionate about first, rather than what logically “should” make sense. Engage the heart, and your mind will follow — when it comes to networking. Only then, will it not feel like a burden but more like doing what comes naturally.
P.S. Consider me to be your test case. How are you going to “network” with me from now on?