If the professional rules and expectations of yester-year no longer apply, then how are old school networking tactics going to lead to any meaningful success?
Many millennials entered the workforce expecting a very different reality than the one that they actually experienced.
As a demographic, millennials grew up their whole lives being told they could be and do anything they wanted. And yet, most entered the current job market when it was at an all-time low. They couldn’t get their dream jobs because those positions no longer existed, weren’t hiring, or the companies themselves had been shut down due to the recession. As a result, this extremely educated generation has ended up drowning in debt—and more than that, unsure of what to do about their future.
Because the truth is, most career paths lead to dead ends. Except for high-end jobs, it’s becoming less frequent for companies to offer substantial compensation and benefits packages. In addition, buying a house feels like a pipe dream from a bygone era, and the incentives that previously drove the working world of the prior generation no longer resonate with millennials. And while it’s definitely still the case that in order to get anywhere in your career you have to know people in your industry, networking conjures up the image of awkward conversations at events and collecting business cards.
As such, millennials need to completely rethink the way they network—and work toward their own needs and desires. This is something my team and I at Olmo have spent a lot of time reflecting on. In trying to imagine the future of work, what does a meaningful connection actually look like? And more importantly, how can technology help us build those meaningful connections in more effective ways—opposed to training our brains to settle for short-term, surface level relationships? If the professional rules and expectations of yester-year no longer apply, then how are old school networking tactics going to lead to any meaningful success?
So, if you’re looking to make headway in the working world, here are a few ways millennials should be thinking about networking in 2019:
1. Networking isn’t transactional, and shouldn’t be about racking up as many connections as you can.
You need to focus on adding quality members to your circle—not just a huge quantity.
This is one aspect technology has skewed for us. Millennials are a digitally native generation, so they’re no strangers to the idea that having 1,000 Facebook friends is normal and totally useful. Unfortunately, quantity is only useful at a glance (meaning the conclusions we make when we see someone with thousands of Instagram followers). However good networking requires that you ditch that ideology.
Instead, as you begin to build your group of connections, you should spend time with people you feel authentically add value to your goals and career path. Essentially, as you’re connecting with others in your industry, make sure you’re taking the time to get to know people individually. Remember their kids’ names, follow-up on your coffee dates, celebrate their accomplishments with authentic enthusiasm—and be sure, above all, that you do this for people who return the favor. You’ll build connections that act more like relationships, where both parties are legitimately and honestly invested in each other’s growth.
2. Think hard on what you’d actually like to do, then go find someone who’s already doing it.
Social media has current generations in a ceaseless comparison cycle.
It seems like everyone else in the world has a job they love, a perfect partner, beautiful food on their plate, and endless resources to travel constantly. Given the proven toll this cycle has on Millennial and Gen Z mental health, seeking out someone who is already working your dream job might feel like sabotage.
But it’s not.
Because what you’re doing is showing that person two things: you are so driven to achieve your goals you’re willing to seek help in achieving them, and you’ve done your homework to find who the current movers and shakers are in your field. Demonstrating this to someone who has your dream job will make them far more likely to meet you for coffee and walk you through how to get where they are—with time, they may even make the necessary introductions to get your foot in the door.
If you want to know how to solve a math problem, you ask the teacher. If you’re stumped on fixing your budget, you call your mom. So if you want to be a Chief Marketing Officer or a project manager or head of the user experience, logically it would follow you asking that person how they got where they are.
It’s not about comparing—it’s about asking for directions.
3. Remember: titles aren’t the only deciding factor in your network. Experience counts more.
Remember the beginning of Beauty and the Beast? The whole reason the prince is cursed to be a monster is he underestimates someone based on what he assumes their worth to be.
You never know who an “associate” or “assistant” may know deeper within the company. Or, for that matter, what their lived experience has been thus far. Maybe they’re not a marketing expert or a data analyst, but maybe they had a former life as a researcher or journalist. Maybe they’re life-long childhood friends with the CEO.
Either way, every person you meet will have a story and value to add to your network—even if their business card doesn’t immediately tell you as much.
4. Not everyone in your life is going to be a solid network connection.
It’s important to recognize that while you may know hundreds and hundreds of people, not every single one of them is going to be a viable candidate for helping advance your career.
Now, having a diverse array of relationships in your life is important to be a well-balanced person. But you wouldn’t ask your grandma to get you a job—unless she knew someone specifically she could recommend you to.
And that’s the crucial distinction between networking and connecting. Not every connection will be an addition to your professional network, because it just isn’t feasible (or healthy) to have only professional colleagues in your life. So it can sometimes help, when you’re just getting started, to make a list of everyone you know and sort them by who can help you professionally, and who you just love for what they bring to your life each day.
It’s good and necessary to have both—but only one is going to boost your chosen career path.