Yes to New Friends: Why Millennials Need to Network

To millennials, sometimes even a social interaction as simple as a phone call can seem frightening or intrusive. After all, Why didn’t they just text?

Add real-time conversations and career goals into the mix, and the prospect of creating a “network” can feel overwhelming, if not impossible.

But maybe that’s because you have an outdated mental image of networking. For example, when you think networking, do you imagine a stiff happy hour mixer in uncomfortable shoes, sweating through your newest blouse or suit while mingling aimlessly with strangers?

If this is what you envision, it’s time to rethink your mindset. That’s because networking is so much more than employing your Psych 101 social skills to romance a potential employer over Moscow Mules. In fact, networking really includes a variety of means by which you can distinguish yourself in your chosen industry, moving beyond being just another name on a resume cover letter. And likely there won’t be awkward social events involved at all.

Over time, strategically increasing your business connections can lead to significant entrepreneurial growth, unexpected opportunities, and ultimately, more fulfilling work. However, never lose sight of the fact that your connections want to be known as individuals, not faceless rungs in your ascent up the corporate ladder. But if you are genuine in your interactions, and work to maintain the relationships you have developed, you’re setting yourself up for financial stability and surprising possibilities.

Still, if you’re one of the 83.1 million millennials looking for career growth opportunities, your lack of work experience may have you feeling cynical about the value of networking. After all, who would consider someone with so little experience to be a useful prospect?

You’re partially right. However, although millennials are often tagged as inexperienced, the good news is that there is a recent trend in the job force toward a revaluation of personality and innovation, sometimes even over job experience. Use this to your advantage; there are ways of proving yourself an asset to other professionals, but it’s up to you to get creative.

Think smarter, not bigger. Sure, you could reach out to the CEO of that Fortune 500 company making headlines on the NASDAQ, praying to the gods of business that your plebeian e-mail will get a reading. But in the pursuit of this pipe dream, why neglect networking with the people who—like you—are young and hungry and desperate for success?

With this in mind, take time to reach out to like-minded millennials looking to collaborate on projects. Add side jobs to your repertoire to build your “muscle to hustle” and to keep you motivated to grow as a professional. If millennials have anything, it’s a reputation for ingenuity and unconventional qualifications; look at side projects as mini opportunities to polish or discover otherwise seldom-used skills.

Embracing networking as a means to help meet talented, ready-to-work professionals could help awaken an untapped or even undiscovered entrepreneurial side in you. Remember that meeting the right person at the right time could be the missing link that launches you from idea to fully-functioning business, and you don’t know when that will happen. What we do know is that who you know can usually take you further than what you know, so be ready to connect whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Next, don’t scrap an idea just because you don’t yet have the resources or skills to bring it to life. Instead, leverage networking to find someone in your age range who does have the necessary knowledge, and you’ll quickly find that collaboration could be the key to your success.

The best way to make up for your lack of experience is to demonstrate the quality of the experience you do have. Side jobs or projects with other millennials can act as relevant case studies that prove your effectiveness.

No time to head to that mixer across town during peak traffic hours? That’s okay! Connections are literally everywhere. You do have the time to chitchat with your hairdresser about your new business idea. You can make a little more effort to be friendly with the people at your assigned table during a friend’s wedding. It’s the little connections that often strike gold.

As a culture, we love the inexperienced underdog; consider many of our admired business or entrepreneurial heroes. Steve Jobs was reportedly a hyperactive menace, a creative savant with unpredictable behavior and unconventional, initially unpopular ideas. Kim Kardashian and her brood supposedly have no talent, yet she commands the interest of millions.

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So make your millennial status work for you and make sure what you do serves a purpose to your end goal. Remember, everyone you meet could well be a potential collaborator, so let’s get to work networking!

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