Face-to-Face and Online Networking – How to Get Started

I hope everyone’s summer break has been treating them well! I am still hard at work trying to get my resume out there to other employers in the LIS industry, and so far I haven’t been able to get out of retail, but I will keep at it. It has been a long time since I last seriously pursued other employment so I expect I will have my share of setbacks along the way. 

The last entry I posted here I was coming home from my time at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL., and I wanted to talk about why you should try to attend a conference as a student, the importance of networking, and why it would be a good idea to start developing your professional online presence and how that can help you in networking online.

While at ALA I admit that I probably could have done a better job of networking face to face rather than networking online. One of the biggest things I know I will need for future (and am currently working to develop!) will be my very own set of business cards. Now, if you’re an MLIS student and you aren’t currently working in a library or with something to do with libraries (like me) you might think, “Well, what am I supposed to put on a business card? I don’t even work in a library!”

Most people you meet at a conference won’t think ill of you if you don’t currently work in a library, after all they probably didn’t work in one for some time either, the card is just an easy way to keep a physical record of interesting people you may have connected with at the conference. With that being said, start with the essentials: your name, your contact info such as phone, email, maybe even professional social network affiliations, and if you’re a student perhaps your program, where you go to school, and maybe even an expected graduation date.

Having all this information on hand to be able to quickly and easily hand off to someone is a godsend while networking. I’m really annoyed with myself that I hadn’t thought of it sooner, but I will be rectifying that very soon. Especially because I can go to a website like VistaPrint and order 100 simple business cards for $16.00 (USD) or I could choose to spend a bit more and get my cards printed on higher quality stock, colors, etc. My point is, even if you’re a student that makes a bit of money from some other job, or you’re a student that doesn’t make much money at all, $16.00 is a small amount of money to invest in something that will only help open doors for you in the future.

In addition to having those business cards, it’s also important to just strike up a conversation with other people. I still need to work on this aspect of things myself, I tend to be shy, especially when dealing with people in a large crowd. It will help if you can look at some of the events and meetings planned at your conference ahead of time and see if there are any topics that you might find interesting. Once you get an idea of what topics you want to attend go in there and listen in, and maybe even scan the room (if you can) to see if there is anyone there that appears to be as interested in the content as you and try to approach them after the meeting. And don’t worry, if the topic isn’t as interesting as you had hoped you can always duck out and pop in to some other meeting too. I would recommend that you snag a seat towards the back if you can, especially if you aren’t sure that the meeting will hold your interest for the duration.

Now what do you do after the session is over and people start to clear out? Find someone and strike up a conversation! Maybe ask what they thought of the topic, or find out what part of the country they are from or how their conference is going. This is where having an elevator pitch can come in handy. I still need to come up with something for me.

For those of you wondering, “What is an elevator pitch?” It’s a little 30 second introduction of yourself, what you do, and where you plan to go with what you have. Though that is a pretty short time period, it’s about the amount of time you would have if you were in an elevator with the person that you might be trying to communicate with. There’s a link here to Idealist Careers that has an entire write up on elevator pitches and offers some questions you can use to come up with your personal pitch.

The business cards and the elevator pitch combined will turn you into a networking powerhouse at the next ALA conference (or really in any situation where you might network; the grocery store, a shop, a plane, etc. any place can become a potential networking moment!), but what will also help you in your career will be to develop some professional social networking accounts. Most of us probably have a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and maybe even a WordPress account, and I’ll bet that if you haven’t given much thought to your online personality that most of these accounts are rather personal.

On these accounts you’re being your “true” self where maybe you don’t filter everything that you say or post because you’re just busy allowing your friends or family to see what’s happening with you. As great as this is, you may find that not everything you post will reflect the best on you if there is an employer looking through your social networks to find out more about you (and believe me, they will do some sleuthing to find your social network profiles). So what should you do to try and keep your personal stuff personal and your professional stuff professional? Make separate accounts!

I’ll take a moment for you to get all the groaning out of the way.

There. That’s better.

Now hear me out, back when I was thinking of really diving deep and coming up with my own professional accounts I debated just going through and purging my existing accounts of stuff that I may not want a prospective employer to see, but I figured that it would be far too much work. Just the amount of tagged photos I was in on Facebook alone was enough to make me reconsider the idea of making separate professional social accounts. Now you might be thinking, “Well, if I make something separate how do I post things to multiple outlets at once?”

Easy, there’s a mobile app called HootSuite that you can use for free for up to 3 different accounts, and if you want to pay to be able topmost to more than 3 accounts at a time you can. I personally have tried using HootSuite and I find that it works really well when I want to make sure that I am posting in the moment status updates to multiple accounts. You can even set a schedule for your posts as well so if you have a bunch of updates you want to post you can have the account post them throughout the day for you automatically.

Another thing to consider when thinking of your professional presence is thinking of yourself as a brand. You want to come up with some kind of username that you can utilize for everything that way you can give your followers consistency when they look for you on other social media websites. Once you figure out your brand name then you can come up with an image or logo you want to use to define yourself and use that for all your various accounts as well. Consistency with name, imagery, and what you post is key with something like this.

You want to be able to post content that you’re interested about and that ties all of these various social sites together too. And when posting to these social media sites you always want to think about what you’re about to post and ask yourself, “Is this something that you want the world to see?”, “Does it reflect well on myself and my brand?”, “Is it an important thing related to my brand’s goals/ideals that I want to share with my followers?”, “Is this offensive?”, “Is this something that might deter a potential employer from offering me a job?”. You should consider all of these questions before you post something to your professional accounts. The last thing you want to do is shoot yourself in the foot because you had a very passionate opinion about something in the moment.

If something does happen that incites that passion in you, maybe wait a few hours before coming up with something to post. All of these social media sites encourage us to post things in the moment, and while that can be a very useful thing, sometimes that behavior can get us into a lot of trouble too because we aren’t giving ourselves enough time to process exactly what we want to say and distributing that information through a filter that takes into consideration multiple sides to a story. The biggest thing you want to do is filter your thoughts down to the most essential piece of what you want to talk about and work from there.

Once you get all your social media sites set up and looking the way you want them to, start finding other people that have similar interests and start following them. Its a great way for you to know who to watch for in the industry you’re interested in, and when they release new things you can talk about it and even learn what hashtags their using so you can use those too, which then gives your accounts some exposure to other people doing the same things. If you do all that you’ll be getting some followers in no time!

All of these things are important tools to use in our world today to learn how to network both in person and online. I’m actually really excited because my school has posted some new online events for the coming school year and one of those is all about how to network in person when you’re not so great at it, which you can bet I will be attending.

As scary as meeting new people sometimes can be, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is get out there and just start saying hi to everyone you meet and learn a bit about what they do. Its a great way for you to learn more about yourself and help you learn to focus on the things you’re really interested in or passionate about. At the end of the day the only person who’s going to look out for your best interests is yourself, so do yourself a favor and get out there and start making some acquaintances!

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