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Making Connections
It has been said that success is all about who you know, and experienced professionals are familiar with just how accurately that adage rings true.

by Carly Murray

While a lot of professional success may be luck, networking is essential to making connections, given those chances to seize upon success just by putting oneself out there and opening doors to opportunities previously unknown. In recent years, networking has lost some of its traction with the younger generation of emerging professionals; its vitality, however, withstands the test of time even if Gen Z is more accustomed to virtual communications.

Getting Started

The implementation of technology may have made our society less reliant on in-person facetime for meeting its social needs, but those modern tools can be repurposed to research the endless networking resources, groups and events available to South Jersey’s business community. Some may cater to a specific niche to help align like-minded communities, and others extend the opportunity to meet people in all different professions and from all different walks of life. If a networking event is outside one’s comfort zone, exploring the different types of options is a great first step to emerge with a new support system of contacts.

“Find your mentors, find somebody that you would like to be 10 years down the line. … Many times people are afraid to ask for help; do not be afraid to ask for help. When you talk to people, be a little vulnerable. Being vulnerable shows that you are trying and you are moving in that right direction,” says State Director and Chief Executive Officer of New Jersey Small Business Development Centers (NJSBDC) Kelly Brozyna.

Nirpa M. Desai is the president of South Jersey Women in Business (SJWIB), a professional networking group that unifies career women and gives the opportunity to connect with others who might be in similar unique situations and face kindred challenges. This also allows for a safe space for women to both socialize and focus on their goals.

“One of the things I think we all do really well is we’re all vested in everyone succeeding in our group,” she says. “So, I know when I meet someone, and they talk about a problem that they might be having in their professional life or in their business, off the top of my head—we have like 34 women right now—I can name someone that could help them. It’s not only women supporting women and growing friendships, growing relationships, but also growing their businesses.”

Making genuine connections is crucial in any field, even in careers where a person is working a hybrid or remote schedule: With the commonality of these work-from-home experiences, in fact, it actually makes networking even more imperative. If a work environment is lacking in coworkers, the collaborative and team-building elements that are so essential to success are lost. And while social media is a great way to spark initial contact, meeting face-to-face for a cup of coffee makes a much more significant impression.

“There’s a networking pre-COVID and then a networking post-COVID, and it’s almost like we haven’t gotten back to networking,” says Tim O’Brien, board of directors president of Business Committed to South Jersey (BCSJ). “People got lackadaisical in the concept of networking. I think that someone who's been in business longer understands this, whereas someone who’s newer to the business world thinks that they can just follow you on LinkedIn and that’s going to help develop relationships. … Whereas I don't believe that to be the case.”

That is not to say, though, that a company’s or a professional’s social media presence should be put on the back burner. Social media displays the personality of a business at first glance, and can grab the attention of prospective collaborators or clients. Social media is just ultimately a surface-level interaction, and people still most appreciate that essential humanistic touch.

Networking Etiquette

Similar to anything in life, it is best to lead with genuine intentions, kindness and patience. Networking is an investment that reaps benefits over time, so it is by no means an instantly gratifying process—especially considering that not everyone you meet during that in-person experience will be compatible with your personal and professional goals. But that, as experts note, should be the expectation: After all, the more one participates, the more they’ll be introduced to others on the same journey, increasing the chance of finding that ideal professional connection.

“Develop the relationship first rather than the hard sell. I think most people are turned off by the hard sell,” Desai advises. “Definitely never bad-mouth your competition, and I would say nobody wants to be sold to; I would focus more on the relationship and finding common ground when you first meet people.”

Networking can even extend to parts of a person’s life beyond their career. In fact, connecting with the right contact could help secure their next go-to for word-of-mouth referrals in a lateral industry. Or, for example, a homeowner could be in a bind with selling their property on short notice, but someone in their networking group happens to be a real estate professional willing to help on a time crunch because of a warmly nurtured connection.

“You have to put yourself out there and show that you are willing to go the extra step for others. And then at the end, it will come back to you, I truly believe that,” says Brozyna. “I think what you put out there, you get back in threefold. If you're generous with your time, if you’re generous with your comments, if you’re generous with your dedication towards an initiative, then eventually things are going to come back.”

People will remember those who are kind to them, and they will remember those who are rude to them even more profoundly: It is important to maintain genuine kindness, manners and respect for others, as people are turned off by artificiality and inflated egos. Remember to ask others about themselves and find out about the things that are important to them. If a person demonstrates active listening, empathy and an openness to collaboration, others will think of them as a potential team member who’s the right fit for future projects.

Success in Development

As the human-connection-driven experience that networking encompasses, it can never be strictly about business, even if it is intended to bolster the profit for all involved parties. Nothing happens overnight, but once connections are made, there is a higher chance of receiving surprise opportunities and job offers.

“Networking takes time. It’s difficult to procure a lead/opportunity by meeting someone one time. But as they see you and get to know you, you’ll be the one they remember when they need that service,” O’Brien explains.

Although the focus is, of course, career building, networking should be viewed more from the lens of building lasting friendships. With that warmth as a priority, there is no reason to either fear or hesitate in initiating that first step, especially considering that sometimes making the first move is necessary, as a contact could also feel anxious about initiating contact. Ultimately, one has nothing to lose and so much to gain, from professional growth to expert wisdom, to lasting companionship throughout a career path.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 14, Issue 2 (February 2024).

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