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The Net of Networking

Bridget Coyne Gabbe shares tips on developing and maintaining relationships that can help your career. logo

Networking. Everyone says you have to do it. Yeah, let's file that under easier said than done.

Take any field and networking is one of the most powerful tools in a professional's arsenal. Only a decade ago, LinkedIn replaced multiple personal rolodexes - and went beyond an individual's network with something akin to six degrees of separation (now 4.74 degrees according to the experts at Facebook and the University of Milan.)

I'll admit that I thought I could do it all on my own. But as the adults like to say, you can't teach experience - or the wisdom that comes from it. I had to go through a few trials and errors to start appreciating how important networking is to establishing myself; then I had to muster the will, courage and pluck to do it.

Here's the thing: networking can get you in the door. Even the new NBC show Smash, underscores that knowing the right people in the right places - and having a resume - can move you from the waiting room to the inner sanctum.

Networking is also a little like dating. I've met scores of people, some of whom have made it past "getting coffee" to become full-blown relationships (not romantic - what kind of gal do you think I am?). I've learned not to brood about the "failed dates" (as my mother would say, their loss!) Lack of chemistry? They just weren't that into me? Next!

So what do I know that I can share?

Practice makes perfect Networking was painful for me at the start. But to grab attention and make that all important first impression, you have to be you - but a really beefed up version of you. It's intimidating and can feel unnatural. But as the Nike slogan says, Just Do it! I promise, the more you do, the easier it gets.

Know what you want This goes back to knowing who you are, what roles you want to pursue and where your strengths lie at this stage of your career (see blog post #4, Becoming Your Own Brand Manager).

Be appealing Be personable. Be charming.

Silence is not golden At least, not when it comes to networking. Of course you want response to the marvelous being that is you. But silence doesn't necessarily mean "not interested." People are super busy. If you feel someone expressed genuine interest, follow up - in, of course, the most polite and understanding way.

Self-promote I had dinner a few months back with Jeremy Williams, a director/choreographer with whom I've worked a few times. He gently reprimanded me for my lack of self promotion. I insisted I was bad at it; he insisted I had to do it: "People want to know what you're up to." (On that note, catch me in an upcoming staged reading series of Strindberg's plays by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble). Did you see what I did there, Mr. Williams?

It ain't all about you Networking is a two-way street. People can tell if all you want is to get something from them. The people you want in your corner are the ones who can become true friends and advocates - and these sorts of relationships are based on mutual respect and support. Listen. Ask questions. Be thoughtful and engaged. Doing that can reveal special things about you, too.

Stay in the loop Once connected, check in - and not just when you're looking for something. Shoot them a hello. Check out what's going on - and show genuine interest for what they're doing and congratulate them on their successes. Update them on your progress and opportunities to see you perform. Wish them a Happy President's Day!

Finally, remember from whence you came To all of you out there who have helped me on my journey, and to all I've yet to meet - thank you! I will pay your kindnesses forward to the next young "me".


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