Networking vs. Connecting (there’s a difference)

Those who know me in a professional sense know that I love to network. I love going to happy hours, morning get-togethers, lunch and learns, socials – pretty much any opportunity to meet new people. But recently, I attended three events with a week of each other that really started to change the way I think about networking.

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Event #1: NEXT MONDAY LADIES LUNCH, LEARN & NETWORK

This event is put on by a company called Next Monday that specializes in “supporting women with leadership training and executive coaching to hone in on their why – which is their passion and intent and what drives the majority of their decisions.” And they act as a catalyst for bringing smart, talented, driven women together. A friend of mine (who I met through a networking group, go figure) Kelly, has recently started working at Next Monday. She introduced me to their quarterly LLN events. The most recent one was called Connecting with Intention. Tara, the speaker, talked to a group of about 100 women about going beyond the basics in networking. Like how to really connect with others, placing more value on relationship building than network-growing. It was a really inspirational speech (aided by Tara’s sense of humor) that got me thinking about how I can be better at connecting with intention. How can I take it to the next level with my connections? How can I really start to form relationships? One exercise that Tara had us do was to write down 5 people we’d like to have lunch/coffee/drinks with in the next month. So I wrote down my (ambitious) 5, left the meeting feeling inspired, but didn’t actually take any action.

Event #2: NEXT MONDAY HAPPY HOUR

Hosted by the same great company, Kelly invited me to a ladies happy hour at a nice bar in town on the following Monday. For women only, this was just a low-key opportunity to get out of the house one night of the week, meet other women in a relaxed, comfortable setting, and not have to commit to anything (other than a glass of wine, probably). Upon arriving, I saw two women who I knew from other networking groups, so I began to chat with them. One of them, Sarah, introduced me to two of her coworkers. After chatting for a while, I realized that one of them had graduated from the same college, the same year, with the same degree as me. And, we now live within 5 minutes of each other in a small suburb of St. Cloud. We exchanged numbers and promises to meet up at the local watering hole sometime, and I left feeling wholly fulfilled. Not because I had exchanged business cards with every woman in attendance, but because I had made one, real, genuine connection. It felt amazing.

Event #3: WOMEN IN BUSINESS MENTOR MORNING

The following morning, I woke up early to get ready to attend another event I had registered for the previous week. Mentor Morning was another women’s networking-ish event put on by a local media company. I had discovered it the previous Friday, and signed up immediately. Essentially, it was speed-dating for mentors. The event brought around 20 local woman who have excelled in their professional lives, from COO’s to college presidents, to CFO’s to business owners. Mentees could choose 5 women to spend 10 minutes with each to learn a little more about what they do, how they got there, how they overcome professional struggles, etc. As it turns out, two of the women I had on my list from Tara’s event the previous week were mentors – lucky me! I was able to spend time with each of these woman and three others, and it was inspirational, educational, and an absolute blast. Taking notes from Tara’s session again, I followed up afterwards with thank-you’s and we-should-meet-up-sometime requests, and now I am having coffee with one of the women in two days.

Whew 🙂

Let me first say that  I don’t usually attend quite that many events in that time span, but it just worked out that way this time. I will also say that there is something so… satisfying about attending women-only events. We all have something in common. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily take advice from or do business with successful gentlemen, but the ability to be real with other women is what makes it so much fun.

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My top pieces of advice that I gathered from all three events?

  • Listen, listen, listen. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and if you listen well enough to be able to follow-up on certain things – personal or professional – the next time you meet, that’s how relationships grow.
  • Ask questions. Go deeper. Someone mentions they have a son? Don’t just say “that’s great” and move on. Ask his name. Ask how old he is. Ask what he likes to do. Show genuine interest. And remember the answers.
  • Follow up. Send a text, make a phone call, write a note, or even deliver a small, relevant gift – do something after the fact to say “Thank you for meeting with me, I enjoyed it, good luck with XYZ life-event, keep in touch” – simple as that.
  • Don’t blow a connection. At the LLN event, I sat next to a woman I’d never met before, and we had great conversations throughout – laughing, sharing advice, etc. However, when the event was over, I stupidly didn’t ask for her card. I may never talk to her again. I can’t remember her name. I blew that connection. Don’t do that.
  • Be helpful. Find out what that other person needs help with. Whether it’s a referral to a business you’re familiar with, some advice on a resume, or a recipe you talked about, be helpful with your knowledge and abilities – it will be reciprocated.
  • Enjoy yourself. This is probably number one. If I didn’t enjoy meeting people, getting to know their stories, taking the time to develop relationships etc., I wouldn’t be very good at it. Find out who you enjoy connecting with – it will be mutually beneficial.

So there you go. Next time you meet someone that you’d like to get to know better, think about how you can make a geniune connection. Don’t be afraid to take them to coffee. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they’re not interested, you will know it, and then you can move on. Now go forth and let your relationships blossom 🙂

#EmilyFayeSays

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10 Things I Wish I’d Known in College

College is the time for knowledge (rhyme unintended) (or was it?). It’s a time to immerse yourself in your studies, find your passions, uncover your skill set and blaze your personal trail. At least that’s what your high school guidance teacher tells you when you’re a senior and about to graduate.

But for a lot of kids, when you get there it takes a different path. It’s more about independence, no rules or curfews, freedom, making friends, trying new things, and probably spending too much money. Often times, that means that studies fall to the wayside. And don’t get me wrong, that’s okay to a point, but like Joni Mitchell warned, “you don’t know what you got til it’s gone.” (definitely had to Google who sang the original – millennial problems…)

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As a graduate now and someone fortunate enough to have happened upon my desired career path fairly early in life, I find myself looking back at what I wish I’d done differently in my college experience. And while, like many college kids, I wish I’d taken less student loans and studied more, this list gets into it a bit more than that. So, here you go…

10 Things I Wish I’d Known in COLLEGE

 1. College professors are actually really awesome. They’re not your high school teachers. They aren’t there to make sure you behave, hold your hand, keep an eye on you etc. They’re there because they are passionate about what they’re teaching, and they want to share that knowledge with their students. Don’t waste the chance to develop relationships with these folks. They can write you recommendations, give you career guidance, and maybe even become your mentor one day.

2. You will regret a bad grade more than missing out on a night of partying. AKA: get your priorities in order. If you have a sociology exam Friday morning, then maybe (just maybe) your time would be better spent in a cramming session vs drinking from a flat keg at a frat house until 3AM. I get it, FOMO is real, but so is having to retake a class after you fail it, or missing graduation honors by decimal points of your GPA. Be smart.

3. Get real-world experience within your major. Some majors, like nursing and education, already have requirements in place that you actually experience the jobs before you can graduate. However others (ahem, marketing) don’t. But it is so important to have some kind of relevant experience within your major when you graduate, because it will give you a definite leg-up on the competition. For example, finance major? Get a teller job. Management major? Work your way up in retail. Communications major? Good luck. Just kidding, you could check out administrative positions. You get the picture. Or maybe if you can’t find anything or nothing seems to fit, do your own thing! Which leads to my next point…

4. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. What are you passionate about? Animals? Social media? Children? The environment? Now think about this: how can you use that passion to differentiate yourself? Maybe it’s volunteering at a shelter, becoming a big brother/sister to someone, offering to do a company’s social media for free, or getting involved with environmental legislation. Whatever it is, getting involved and following your passion will not only differentiate you, but will help you get a career that you want, rather than a job you have to have.

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5. Really f***ing try in class. I made the mistake of saying “I’m so over this” about 498 times during my college career. I got good grades still, blessed with good guessing skills & my natural ability to BS my way through anything , but what benefit was it to me? After all I was PAYING TO LEARN. The point of college is not simply to just make it to graduation. And while there are things I learned that I still carry with me today, there is so much more I wish I could go back and really absorb. Read textbook. Ask professors hard questions. Stay after class if I didn’t understand. Really…. try.

6. You don’t need those $78 jeans. You will never in your life need $78 jeans. You will learn this about 6 months after graduation, when your first student loan payment is due. You will never pay more than $25 for a pair of jeans again. And a $30 t-shirt. Fahgettaboutet. Thrift stores, clearance racks, using what  you have… stop buying expensive clothes. Save. Your. Money.

7. Spaghetti-o’s and Dr. Pepper do not a meal make. You know, the dining hall does have a salad bar with low-fat dressing. Also, you can buy frozen vegetables for about the same price as those canned monstrosities with the “noodles” and the “meatballs.” Oh, and wheat bread tastes the same as white bread. I know, right? Take care of your body. Just because mom’s not around to cook for you, doesn’t mean you can go gain 20 pounds. Also: stay active. Your school’s gym is cheaper and nicer than anything in the real world, so don’t waste the chance to use it.

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8. Show your school spirit, damnit. At St. Cloud State University, we had a saying we’d use sarcastically: “St. Cloud Proud…”. We’d say it whenever something bad/embarrassing would happen at our school. Not exactly bubbling over with school spirit. But I have friends who went to other schools who are the opposite. They go to alumni events, they cheer on their sports teams, they are involved and they’re really passionate fans. I find myself jealous of them. I wish I’d been a better fan, because then I could be part of the Husky community with more pride.

9. Use social media wisely. I’m not going to preach the whole “no beer bongs on Facebook” thing because you’ve heard that 15 times over. However, I do feel that college students can use social media wisely and strategically. Connect with your professors. Reach out to businesses you’re interested in. Stay active on LinkedIn. Use Twitter less for retweeting @CommonFemale or @GuyCodes and more for retweeting at @Forbes or @Kiplinger. Use your social presence wisely. (For more tips, check out my slideshow here.)

10. Cherish. Every. Second. You’ve heard this before, but take it from a once-jaded college grad who couldn’t wait to throw up deuces to my university and start pounding pavement: you will miss it. I miss the simple things. Learning. Flexible schedules. Meeting new people. Writing essays (for real). I wish I could go back sometimes. So cherish every second of it. Because it’s going to go fast, it’s going to be crazy, and you are going to miss it.

#EmilyFayeSays