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I have a confession. I really struggle with networking—I find social interactions draining (especially meeting new people) and I don’t like the idea of selling myself. Since networking is critical to finding work, how am I employed?
After defending my thesis, I got my first position through sheer luck. There’s a career development theory known as “planned happenstance,” but I just sent out a good résumé and aced the one interview I got. That’s luck, not planned happenstance.
That said, planned happenstance does describe my transition from my first role at the University of Toronto (a part-time, short-term contract) to my current permanent role. I met with people to discuss possible partnerships and always took the chance to promote the programs I ran.
While on contract, I kept meeting the woman who would become my director at the U of T Career Centre. After our third interaction, we scheduled an informational interview and realized a common need: she needed someone with my skills and knowledge and I needed a job.
With this networking, I didn’t feel like I was selling myself—I was selling my programs. It turns out this feeling has been supported by research into “dirty networking” by Professor Tiziana Casciaro of the Rotman School of Management and colleagues. She found that networking done on behalf of a team is less likely to make one feel “dirty.”
Professor Casciaro’s research reminded me of other times when I’ve successfully networked. At an academic-industry conference, I found a networking buddy and met new people with the purpose of introducing them to her—my power lay in acting on behalf of an informal team and brokering further conversations. Another time, I gave the perfect elevator pitch because I was speaking about the benefits of my discipline.
Being mindful of one’s power (even imaginary power) and asking a lot of questions are not only good networking practices, they can also reduce discomfort at networking for introverts like me. Reflecting on my forays into networking, I’ve realized that my strengths are selflessness and a passion for collaboration.
As I continue to hone my networking skills, I will aim to put myself in the right situations, seize opportunities as they happen, and of course, ask more questions.
Jonathan Turner is a Career Educator at the University of Toronto Career Centre. Previously he worked as the Professional and Graduate Skills Specialist at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Before that he was a professional degree accumulator (PhD, Toronto, 2012; MA, Toronto, 2005; BSc, Waterloo, 2004; BA, York, 2001).