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Networking from a Place of Service

“I hate networking.” You hear this all the time, even from folks who know it’s the key to develop in your career. We’ve long been conditioned to dread networking. But the fact is — and you’ve heard it a million times — networking is the key to getting ahead in your career. But only three percent of the population LOVES to network. So what are the other 97 percent of us supposed to do?

It’s all about reframing the concept of networking, according to Dave Uejio, Acting Chief Strategy Officer at Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at GovLoop’s recent workshop, “Becoming a Networking Guru.” Uejio did a quick overview of why networking is important and how to network from the “light side” (and yes, that’s a Star Wars reference).

What is the light side of networking? “Use networking to serve one another, not to optimize for yourself,” said Uejio. Networking shouldn’t start because you need it or you are trying to find ways to use others, he explained. “You should network from a place of service.”

What’s that mean? In short, when you are networking, you shouldn’t look at it like a short-term, self-serving relationship. If you can reframe it, think about how networking can actually be a lasting and durable connection that serves everybody involved.

Additionally, networking can actually serve the greater good, as well as your own goals and that of your agency. “Everybody has something to offer,” Uejio pointed out. “And nobody can get anything done at your agency without working with other people. We, as people, are better together than we are apart.”

So how can you work to reframe networking, if it’s something you have a negative association with? Uejio offered several tips for how you can think different about networking in order to make it a pleasant and positive experience for you — and anybody you’re interacting with.

Be a great host. Think about networking like you are hosting a party at your house. “This is a way to make networking better for you and everyone else,” said Uejio. When you think of networking like being a host, it’s not a threatening, awkward social gathering – it’s a place where you are comfortable.

Ask compelling questions. The goal of networking is not to impress other people. It’s about getting to know others and making lasting relationships. By asking questions, you get to know a little more about them and make a connection. Additionally, for introverts, this is a way to network where you can mostly listen instead of having to talk about yourself.

Win the follow up. Following up with someone can make all the difference. After you go home from a networking event with a handful of business cards, don’t just set them aside and forget about them. Remember the people you talked to and send them a quick email. All it has to say is “Hey, it was nice to meet you and I enjoyed our discussion about _______.”  “This makes it easier to build connections with people,” said Uejio.

Learning the ropes of networking takes time. But, once you can learn to view it as a skill that comes from a place of empathy, giving, and kindness, it can prove to be an invaluable skill that can help you advance your career and build meaningful relationships throughout your life.

This workshop was a sneak preview into GovLoop’s annual NextGen Summit that provides training and leadership opportunities to people new to government. For more information please visit https://www.nextgengovt.com/.

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