If you’re anything like us, the word networking sends icky shivers down your spine. Our latest podcast has got you covered as our guests Hilary Stauffer who works at the Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Rukasana Bhaijee a diversity and inclusion consultant at EY, Alexia D’Arco President of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and PhD student Miranda Melcher who researches how to rebuild militaries after civil wars at King’s College London share their tips. Listen to it on all major podcast apps, and then share what you learnt in the comments below.
Ashley Pratt: Hello and welcome to this month’s episode of Women in Foreign Policy! I’m Ashley, one of your hosts. I’m a foreign policy practitioner working in Washington, DC.
Annika Erickson-Pearson: And I’m Annika, your other host. I’m a graduate student in Geneva, Switzerland. Right now, you’re listening to the monthly podcast of the Women in Foreign Policy organization, where each month, Ashley and I discuss a different topic related to foreign policy careers and professions.
Ashley: This episode continues our series on professional development, which you may have listened to over the past two months. We’ve covered professional development organizations in December and last month we talked about mentorship and sponsorship. The January episode on mentorship has been one of our most popular ever, so definitely if you missed that episode go back and listen. I got so much out of it personally, I know Annika has said she got a lot out of it, I think it’s just a really important topic that maybe doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. This month we’ll be talking about networking. In the months ahead we’ll talk about the transition from school into the working world and what it’s like to transition from being a student to being a professional, and we’ll also be talking about public speaking and serving on panels. If you have any other ideas or questions about professional development, or anything in this realm you want to hear us discuss, feel free to find us on any of our social media and let us know what you want to hear. And now, before we dive into hearing from the incredible women working in foreign policy and diversity & inclusion on today’s episode, we want to give them a chance to introduce themselves.
Miranda Melcher: Hi, my name is Miranda Melcher, I am a PhD student at King’s College London where I research how to rebuild militaries after civil wars.
Hilary Stauffer: My name is Hilary Stauffer. I currently live in Baghdad, Iraq. I work for the United Nations, for an agency called OCHA - the Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. We help oversee all of the aid delivery in Iraq as the country is starting to rebuild after ISIS.
Rukasana Bhaijee: Hi, my name is Rukasana Bhaijee. I work for EY and I’m a diversity and inclusion consultant. I’ve been at EY for 4 years now and I’ve been in diversity and inclusion for about 7 years. I’m also a mum, and I have 2 boys.
Annika: This is Annika again. Our last guest is actually another repeat guest from last month - we had Alexia D’Arco back on to talk more about networking because she had so many wonderful things to say about it. So this month we are talking about one of my all-time favorite topics: networking. I am an extroverted person so to me networking is basically anything that happens when I step outside my door in the morning, but I think networking can sometimes bring up fear in people or people sometimes will say to me, “oh, networking is a dirty word” or “it makes people feel really uncomfortable.” So we talked to these women and wanted to just understand a bit more from them how they understand networking, how they network, and why networking is so important. Obviously it wouldn’t keep coming up if it weren’t something that mattered. So, just to kick things off, we asked: How do you define networking? We heard from Hilary on this question.
Hilary: For me networking means meeting as many people as possible who might be able to help you in the future. I don’t think that it’s only meeting senior leadership in your field, or famous people, or even particularly well known or important people. I mean, if you’re able to get those people in your network then that’s such a bonus, but I have found that the thing to do is to reach out to as many people as possible who are doing things that you think are interesting and just kind of filing them away for later. You’ll see when and if your paths might cross in the future.
Annika: Miranda gave us a definition for networking.
Miranda: Networking for me, I suppose, is the process of actively getting to know people - mainly for professional reasons, but not necessarily exclusively. It’s really that process of doing it consciously rather than just sort of meeting people randomly throughout your day-to-day life.
Ashley: So, at least from my experience, networking sounds hard and like this totally different skill from anything I’ve ever done before and maybe even a little skeezy, you’re like, “Oh, networking is what people do when they just hand you a business card and spend five minutes smooth-talking you and then they’re just gone and they call you in two weeks for a favor.” But actually it’s just getting to know people. You need to have a reason to speak to them, show a genuine interest in what they do or what they’re involved in - just strike up a conversation, and you’re done! You’re networking. That is networking. It’s just fostering a genuine connection with someone who works in a similar or a connected professional field. There are some stereotypes or some preconceived notions about networking that maybe make women hesitant to do it because it plays against ideas about how women should interact professionally or natural strengths that women might have, but honestly - you are socialized to be so social, and networking is just another aspect of that. Just be professionally social, and you’re networking. So let’s say that we have assuaged your fears about networking in general. Maybe you still need to be convinced that you should network. Surely if you’re the best for the job, you’re going to get the job, right? I know that I believed that, I know that it’s a really common thought if you haven’t been working for very long, but honestly after you listen to everyone that we heard from for this episode, you’re going to understand why networking is absolutely crucial to your career. We heard from Rukasana on her thoughts about why networking is so crucial.
Rukasana: When individuals are at ideally mid-career, or any stage of their career, they should be analyzing their network and taking their time to do a network mapping exercise. I do this in some of my sessions as part of my diversity work focused on career capital. In that network mapping exercise, we get individuals to identify the stakeholders that are in their network, who they are close to, how strong their relationships are, and how strong they want them to be. And then also thinking about the next steps: if they want to move to a different level, what are they going to have to do, and who are they going to have to connect with in order to build relationships to get there. So it’s a really proactive way of building and understanding your network. Traditionally that’s something, research has shown, that men are more naturally prone to thinking about [their network] actively, or quite often they don’t even have to think about it. It just happens. So at our firm specifically, for women and individuals from an ethnic minority it’s something we try and do proactively.
Ashley: Alexia’s advice on why networking is so important was spot-on.
Alexia D’Arco: So the reality is that for most sectors the majority of jobs are not publicly posted. Studies show that something up to 70% of jobs are not publicly posted, so if you’re looking for something and you're only looking at job descriptions and job openings, you're missing out on a huge category of jobs that are available. And the way you find out about those jobs is by knowing people. People are creatures of habit, they want to find other people who will be great for jobs without having to sort through 500 applications, 1000 applications, and so they are more likely to pass around job descriptions in a smaller network before and maybe unless they have to go public because they have found somebody through a network. And so that’s one reason I think that networking is incredibly important. The other reason I would say is that it really broadens your horizons, it gives you a better sense of jobs that are out there. I think that academia is obviously wonderful, I am an Adjunct Instructor myself, but there is only so much you can learn in a classroom about different professions, so it’s really getting out there and talking to people who are in those fields to figure out what it is that they love, what it is that they hate. It gives you a better sense of what areas you might want to pursue yourself.
Annika: So, you’re convinced, you’re like, “Alright, I’m going to give it a whirl, we’re going to try networking.” Now, who on earth should I be adding to my network? We also checked in with the women on this topic. First, we heard from Alexia.
Alexia: Sure, I mean, I would definitely prioritise whatever sectors you’re most interested in, because you do have limited time. So initially I’d reach out to folks who have backgrounds, who have jobs that look interesting to you and focus on that. But I think also a great way of networking is - some people think they have to sort of reach out to someone on LinkedIn, but you can also go to events that are on interesting topics that appeal to you and then particularly those events will have smaller sessions afterward or you can at least exchange business cards and get to know people that way. So joining an association or going to a public event and then connecting with people afterwards, I think can be a useful way of meeting people who are like minded you may not have known to look for based on profession or industry. For me, I was a German Studies major in college so I had no idea what I would do with that. I thought I was gonna be a professor but then I went overseas and I did a fellowship and I realised I really didn't wanna sit in an archive and I didn't want to write books, I wanted to be engaged with people and be engaged with policy. But I never would've reached out to those people in college, just because I didn't even know that could be a career. So it was only by staying in Germany and working for a small think tank and coming into contact with people from all over the world and from all different sectors, that I realised I should be talking to those people.
Annika: Miranda had some thoughts about who to add to your network.
Miranda: So the most underutilized type of person that can be in your network, especially when you’re in the process of maintaining a network, is the person who sort of knows everyone. They may not be in your particular field or what you’re looking for in your next job, they might be someone in a completely different industry. But someone who is open to people, to ideas, even to news stories - just someone who is constantly open to opportunities and really enjoys, as a person, making connections. That’s usually a really useful person to keep in your network because they may not be able to direct you to an opportunity immediately or every time, but in the long-term that’s the kind of person that often can help you find the people and the opportunities that you never would have found any other way. Those are the kinds of people who can help you find the out of the box things that, at least from what I’ve seen, can sometimes be the most successful.
Annika: Hilary’s philosophy was essentially that you should be adding everyone to your network; we’ll hear from her now.
Hilary: For me, the people you should be adding to your network is anyone who you think is doing something interesting in either the field you are in, or the field that you want to be in. Because I know a lot of the listeners of this podcast are people who may be trying to transition to a role in foreign policy or to change to a different role in this field. And I think sometimes we set our sights on the Amal Clooneys of the world, who of course would be an amazing addition to anyone’s network. In the unlikely event you’re able to add such well-known people to your network, the first thing a lot of people forget, and especially a lot of women forget, is that your peers can be your network. Or even people that are kind of on the periphery of what you are doing and what you think is interesting.
I love reading newspapers, I’m a political junkie. I don’t think I’m ever going to become a political reporter for any reason. But when I meet people who work in politics or for newspapers, I always want to reach out and follow up because I don’t know if they may be useful to me in the future. And I think that international affairs and politics and the news are all intertwined and so I think that’s a good reason to reach out to them even if I don’t know exactly how they’re going to fit in.
I think also people may not always be able to help you right now. I think that’s certainly true for me. I get asked by dozens of people by the month, by the week, strangers over LinkedIn, over Instagram, or someone puts me in touch over email, all saying, “I’m really interested in doing this. Can you help?” And sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can’t think of any contacts I have in that field that might be useful but I don’t mind being a part of that person’s network because maybe I’ll need them for something in the future, or maybe in a month or two an opportunity will pass my way and I’ll remember them and think, “Okay, I can just forward this email. It’s easy for me to do that.” So I think that’s something that people forget. It’s not only about “Who can I talk to to get me my next job?” It’s about “How many people can I add to my network that may be able to influence my life in the future?”
Ashley: We also asked all of our guests, “If you could tell everyone at every networking event ever just one thing, if you have the mic for one second and you can just announce to everyone one thing, what would you announce?” Alexia had a really good answer to this question.
Alexia: Relax, I think everybody is always so stressed out and there is this sense that it's about quantity and not about quality, that you're on a mission to collect as many business cards as you can and hand out as many business cards as you can and it becomes this very stressful environment, it's almost like a human zoo in some places. So I would say relax, sort of go into situations knowing what you want to get out of them, when you're tired just leave, even if you haven't handed out all those cards or met everybody, just disconnect, know there's gonna be another event for you. Take it easy on yourself, I think it's good to practice networking, to go to easier events maybe with people who are more in your sector in your demographic at first because it'll be easier to connect, you'll have more in common and then sort of scale up to more difficult encounters, but really know yourself and practice networking. It's something that I think sometimes people feel we should just know how to do, but it's actually something that requires practice. So be patient with yourself as you practice, do it a lot, be sincere - I think it's really helpful, again if you don't feel this pressure to hand out or collect business cards, you're more likely to listen. I myself if I go to a networking event - recently it's been more that people are asking me questions, so I actually don't do as much of the approaching, but thinking back a couple years ago I would focus on maybe having 3 or 4 meaningful conversations maximum in an hour and then calling it quits. I think if you make a deeper connection, if you get beyond the superficial chatter of "where are you from, what's your job, what do you do" then you are more likely to remember that person, they're more likely to remember you and then you can build on it. It's not like you have to do everything at one time. I think a lot of people feel like “I have to sign seal and deliver this networking relationship right here,” and the reality is you collect a card, you say “hi, you exchange some thoughts, and then if it seems like there may be a connection you reach back to them, you have a coffee, maybe you have a lunch, but you give it time you don’t have to do everything right there and it makes everybody more comfortable.
Ashley: Miranda’s answer was also really fun and interesting.
Miranda: So this is perhaps a counterintuitive response, but my advice at a networking event would be “know what your goals are.” What are you trying to get out of that event? Make sure that that’s top of mind before you even walk into the event. And that goal might be “I want to meet this specific person who I know is going to be there” or someone from this particular organization or company, but it also might be broader than that. It might be saying, “I want to meet three interesting new people,” or “I want to give out seven of my business cards and receive seven in return that I can follow up with.” Whatever your goal at that moment in your job search, in your career, might be, I find that networking events are both so much more useful and also so much less stressful if, when you go in, you know exactly why you’re there that night and what you’re trying to get out of it.
Annika: I have to be honest, I don’t know how many formal networking events I’ve ever been to, but now that I’ve heard their advice I kind of want to go to one - they sound weirdly fun. Now that we know some things we should do, who we should be adding to our network, we also wanted to check back in like we did on the mentorship episode about what common mistakes people make. What are the “don’ts” of networking? Rukasana shared some tips about the “don’ts” of networking.
Rukasana: I think the main “don’t” is don’t worry about it. A lot of individuals, and I was the same when I was starting out with networking and much younger, I used to worry about going to an event and having to speak to people that I didn’t know, and the whole room was full of strangers. What I tended to do was stick to somebody that I knew and then not make an effort to move from conversation to conversation. So the main “don’t” would be don’t worry about it and just go and enjoy and have good conversations with people, which might start off with (and this is very British) talking about the weather. Usually that leads to other things in terms of what you’re doing, what your interests are, what you’re passionate about. So the main thing would be don’t worry.
Annika: Hilary’s response when she talked about what not to do with networking gave me so much to think about.
Hilary: So for me it is… For me personally, I wouldn’t want to speak for everybody, but for me it is when people reach out and ask you for help, and then you give it and then you never hear from them again. This happens to me constantly. Like I said I get a lot of unsolicited requests for help: people that want to break into international law. People that want to transition into something else. People that want to live abroad. Can I please help, etc.
I answer these queries all day long through LinkedIn, sometimes on Instagram, from emails if people have gotten my card from somewhere… and I would say ONE out of TEN times somebody actually first acknowledges that I have even answered their query and secondly says thank you. Nine out of ten times I never hear from them again. And then I just am extremely frustrated because I think, “Why did I take the time to do that?” And it is largely from younger people that that happens, and I guess here I mean millennials and people in their mid-twenties. I would love to be in my mid-twenties again so I have nothing against millennials but I think there can be an entitlement that they have grown used to.
The world is a more informal place than it was. I’m in my late thirties so having that much of a break means that it is just a different scene than when I was coming up. So watching this happen and experiencing this makes me very frustrated. Like maybe you’ve poisoned the well for people in the future. Maybe next time somebody reaches out to ask me for help I’m going to think, “No, what a waste of time. The last three times I did this they didn’t even say thank you.” So I think that’s a big part of it. It’s just common decency. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt so maybe they’re just busy or stressed or taking entrance exams for grad school or anything. But if you’ve asked me for help and I’ve given it, please just say thank you. Please just say I appreciate your time. And all of that is just making the world a better place, paying it forward, and showing common decency, and not poisoning the well for people that are coming up behind you.
I think another thing that I would really like to emphasize is that if you are fortunate enough to get an introduction to someone important or noteworthy in your field and you’ve called in a favor and you’ve asked someone to please introduce you to this prominent person and they are actually able to do it, please do not screw it up by making the scheduling difficult. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen it personally with me; although I wouldn't consider myself prominent or important, I am working in a field that people want to work in. The number of times that I agree to do favors for friends and say, “Sure, I’m happy to have coffee with this person,” and then they make the scheduling so difficult. They tell me, “Oh, I’m available on Tuesdays at 4, if you can call me at this time.” Well, I don’t really care when you’re available, what matters is when I’m available - I’m the one that has the information you want. What you should say is, “When are you available? I’ll make myself available.” I’ve seen it so many times - you have these tortured, long back-and-forth email negotiations about when you can meet and then people cancel at the last minute. The person who was looking for mentorship will write and say “oh, really sorry, it looks like I’m going to be really busy at work today and can’t make it.” I will never answer your email again. I don’t care if you’re busy at work that day; if you want my time, please let me know that you value it. Or for people that are much more prominent than me in what they do - they’re doing you a favor by agreeing to meet. Please just show the common courtesy to show that you value their time. And it’s frustrating that I’m even saying this to you because I want to believe that everyone is acting in the best possible way but my own personal experience has not borne this out. Again, it’s largely younger people, maybe millennials, and I actually think it’s inexperience - I never think it’s bad intentions. But if I can save you from making that mistake in the future, please just know if you’ve been lucky enough to get this introduction, that person is doing you a favor, so make it as easy as possible for them to do you a favor.
Ashley: So there is a friend of mine who is one of the best networkers I know. She could do an afternoon of networking calls and have five freelance gigs or two job offers or a ridiculous amount of work lined up. When I was thinking about this episode, I was thinking, “oh wow, I’d love to pick her brain and figure out what makes her the excellent networker that she is.” And ultimately, we did that - it’s Miranda! She’s here on this episode! And I’m really glad that we got to talk to her and dig into what she considers the characteristics that make her one of the best networkers I know, but then I also turned that into a question for the rest of our experts: What characterizes the best networkers you know? How can you build skills around networking based on what you know about those people? How do you practice networking? Rukasana identified a couple of characteristics that are very useful for a networker.
Rukasana: Good networkers essentially have a couple of skills. They are good at building relationships. And what I mean by that is if they meet with someone or have a connection with someone, they will follow up with that individual. So if you’re at a networking event or you’ve met someone in a meeting, it’s really important to think about the follow up. How are you going to follow up with that individual? It might be a connection on LinkedIn with a personalized message and then keeping in touch from time to time. So making your LinkedIn network meaningful. As well as, if it’s in your actual organization, thinking about how you can connect with that individual -- is there something you can follow up with? Is there something you can share with them? So I think the really good networkers that I’ve met in my life have been the individuals that have made an effort and understood the importance of the follow up.
The main thing is just to practice. You could practice with friends, with colleagues, and that might be in the same way that you would practice an interview. You can practice networking skills if it’s something that you really need to work on. The main thing is to get out there, get to events, meet different people, and if it’s social media, connect with someone and say, “Can I meet you for a coffee?” If you’ve seen someone doing great work or you’re interested in something someone’s doing, let them know! Let them know that you’re interested and that you find it fascinating and you may want to meet for a coffee. And quite often people are generally really good-hearted and will be flattered and no doubt say yes.
I think that curious mindset is so important. Having a growth mindset, and this is something from Carol Dweck, the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset… the growth mindset allows individuals to be more curious.Their frame of reference and perspective will be almost enriched by the influence of other perspectives.
Ashley: Hilary also had some great advice for developing a networking skillset.
Hilary: It’s not just about your next job. I can’t stress that enough. Modern careers are not linear. You’re not going to do this for two years and then become senior manager and then become the director. It’s so rare. There’s going to be a million lateral moves, and you might try and do something for six months because you think it’s interesting but then it doesn’t work out, and then you’ll come back and do something different. But if you don’t have a wide network to reach out to when you’re getting ready to make your next move, you are going to be at a really big disadvantage from other people.
I think networking is different than what so many people think it is. It is not these movies from the 1990s or sitcoms where you have to go to an awkward happy hour after work and talk to a bunch of bankers because you might want to work in banking one day. Or go to a legal conference because you’re studying for the bar. All of those things work also; any opportunity is a good opportunity for networking.
But for me there are certain characteristics of people that are good at networking. One of them is basically just show up. Show up to things even if you don’t feel like going, because none of us ever feel like going anywhere these days. The world is so easy to burrow in and binge Netflix and just scroll through Instagram and cocoon into yourself. And think, “Okay I’ll just do it next time because it’s too hard right now and it’s much more comfortable to stay here and I’m kind of shy and don’t feel like going.”
…. I don’t feel like going either! And I’m an extremely extroverted person. It’s not difficult for me to walk into a room of strangers. But it is difficult for me to convince myself to leave the house because I also want to sit around in my pajama pants and watch Netflix. But if there’s something happening that you think is interesting, just go. Go for half an hour. Make small talk. Make sure at least one person will remember you.
Because I think in a lot of ways it is a numbers game. It can be sadly like the modern dating scene, in that you do just have to kind of put yourself out there as much as possible. It doesn’t always feel natural, and maybe nothing comes of it. Maybe it’s the biggest waste of your time, but I can’t see any downside to going out and just trying and making the effort, because again the brand is yourself. You’re out there trying to tell people why you’re so great, and if you’re hiding at home… I understand people have demanding jobs and nobody feels like doing anything at the end of a really long day… but make the effort. Go for half an hour. Just do something different just to put yourself out there and tempt the universe into action so there’s enough energy out there so people know that you’re serious about finding the next thing that you want to do.
11.20 And I think also you have to follow up. If you meet somebody that you think is interesting, if you got their card just send them an email. If you didn’t get their card but you got their name, try to find them on LinkedIn or lots of people are on Instagram these days of course. Reach out. Send them a message. It cannot hurt. Maybe it goes absolutely nowhere. I can speak from personal experience because there was a time in my career where I was the one doing a lot of reaching out. I am now a little bit more established in my career so I get a little bit more unsolicited requests: “I saw you speak at this thing” or “You wrote something on twitter and it was really interesting.” Or “I just wanted to follow up on this.” And I do read all of these. I read the messages and then sometimes I’m busy at work, or I’m about to commute and get on a flight and I can’t respond right then. And maybe I don’t respond for three weeks, but then something a little bit later will remind me that “Oh I’ve got this email in my inbox! Next time I have five minutes, I’m just going to write back to this person and say, ‘Thanks for reaching out. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.’”
Ashley: Alexia also had some really great advice on this subject.
Alexia: I can think of a number of them - what's interesting is that they're all very different. I would say there is sort of like archetypes of good networkers. One is the social butterfly, who is - you know we've all seen that person: they're fun, they're engaging, they're funny, they come into a room and people just want to talk to them; so those people. And then there are people who are a little bit quieter, they're really sincere, they really wanna get to know you and it's a little bit more - I would call them the humble networker almost. They almost make you feel more like it's about you, not about them, but they're clearly doing networking for themselves as well. Those, I think, tend to be the two extremes for me and there is a lot in the middle. What's interesting I found is that often those two extremes are more similar than you might expect, because even the people who are outwardly very extroverted, often are still introverted and sort of spread their wings when they go to these networking events, but then also need quiet time to themselves. So I'd say never stereotype necessarily, what someone is gonna be like based on their behaviour in a networking session because people put on different personas. I would say even with those two different examples, what I characteristically always see as a strong networker is someone who is articulate but doesn't dominate the conversation, someone who is also a very very good listener, who makes you feel like they're paying attention to you. This is maybe even more obvious now in the cell phone era, but even before that, you could tell: someone would pay attention to you, they wouldn't be looking at their watch, they would actually pick up on comments that you made and take the conversation further instead of nodding their heads and saying "yes". Now it's even more obvious because if someone is looking at their phone or doing other things, you just know that they're not engaged. People who really truly connect and make time and focus on the conversation at hand and not the person who is looking to escape by saying they have to go to the bathroom or getting another glass of wine or saying they're seeing someone they know... Those are good escape strategies if you do them eloquently or elegantly. But really focusing in on the moment and giving each person their time.
Annika: As I mentioned at the beginning of the show, as an extrovert I consider [myself to be] networking basically every time I walk out the front door. We asked a couple of our guests to unpack that concept a little bit more. We wondered, what are some ways to network that aren’t as obvious, that maybe people haven’t thought about if they haven’t been building professional relationships for a while or if, like me, they haven’t really been to a lot of professional networking events, what are some kinds of hidden networks that people can tap into? Rukasana had an excellent response to this question.
Rukasana: I think networking has changed from days of past when networking maybe was centered around an after-work social or an after-work event. I think we’re becoming more dynamic, and we’re starting to network in different ways. And with global mobility and the rise of social media, networking rules have changed. So it could be networking at physical events, industry events, social events where you are there because you’re interested in a topic, or it could be on social media. Networking on social media has become a really powerful way to connect with people in an industry or organization that you’re interested in. You can gain insight into people’s current thinking, what’s on their mind, what thought leadership are they putting out. And then base your networking around what you think the individual is interested in. There are just so many ways to meet and connect with people now and physical space is no longer a barrier.
Annika: Hilary also had some ideas about different ways to network that maybe aren’t quite as obvious.
Hilary: I also think that if you haven’t networked in a while and you’re still very nervous about going to big, staged events, it can be smaller things. I met Lucie, the founder of Women in Foreign Policy, kind of at a public event. I had gotten up to ask a question - and this is one of my major tips for networking that doesn’t involve necessarily speaking to other people, but if you’re at a speaking event and there’s some on stage, when it comes time for Q&A, raise your hand! Raise your hand and ask a question. It’s okay if you’re nervous, or if you don’t think your question is very good, or if you stutter a little bit. All you’re trying to do, again, is elevate yourself. You’re trying to make yourself stand out in the crowd. So maybe somebody remembers your question, or maybe they don’t. Maybe they just remembered that you stood up and said something, so they’ll come up to you afterwards and say, “Oh are you in this field, too?” or something. And you’ll have an automatic way to begin speaking to that person. Again it’s just how do you make yourself pop or stand out from the crowd a little bit. What happened at this event was that I asked a question, and Lucie came up to me afterwards. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about. I don’t remember what event it was, or what I said. But we agreed to go later and meet for breakfast at a hotel before work in a couple of days’ time. And then after that, she started Women in Foreign Policy and I was among one of the first people that she interviewed for it. And that was both good for me, and good for her. It raised my profile and it gave her something to hang her hat on, to say “These people have already been interviewed… Do you have any friends that you can suggest?” And then I can repay the favor and suggest other women that I think are amazing, and then they get the benefit of being profiled, and she gets the benefit of more content. So it can be a super symbiotic thing. You don’t have to just go and ask people to give you a job. Networking can be something so much bigger than that.
Ashley: We also wondered, “are there any downsides of networking?” Is there anything that genuinely is a drawback? Miranda had some interesting thoughts on that.
Miranda: There are definitely downsides of networking, not that I think you should necessarily not do it, but there are some things to be aware of. First of all, it’s exhausting; and that sounds silly and trivial but it really is something it’s important to make sure you leave the time and mental energy for. Having lots of networking meetings or even going to one large event or spending an entire Saturday sending out emails - that’s not trivial energy and deserves to be thought of as actual work time that you need to build relaxation and fun and rewards around, especially if you’re networking while also doing full-time study or a full-time job. You really do have to set aside time for networking in order to get the goals out of it that you want. It’s not really something that you can just sort of say, “Oh, when I’ve got a free moment I’ll get around to it,” because you probably never will.
The other thing I would say is a downside to networking is that you have to get used to connections that you’re hoping for, opportunities that you’re hoping for not panning out. The benefit that I’ve seen of networking is often a lot more indirect than we would hope, where you meet someone who introduces you to someone who then introduces you to a third person who then suggests you apply for a job, rather than it happening the first time with the first connection. With networking, be aware that it will take more time and energy than you may think and make sure to budget around that but make sure that your expectations for networking, both in terms of what you want to get out of networking but also in terms of the timeline. Networking can be a great way to get jobs but it’s not necessarily something that means you will get a job immediately or even in the next week, two weeks, or a month. It’s something that you have to invest time and energy into and be aware of and ok with the fact that the path between networking and job success may not be as direct or as immediate as you would have hoped for.
Annika: And finally, we’re going to end with a story from Miranda about a positive networking experience that she had.
Miranda: Networking can sometimes work really well, and again sometimes it can work unexpectedly. One of the first times I ever did “real networking,” I was looking for a summer internship. I had a general idea of the field I was interested in but it was my first real internship so I felt I really didn’t have a lot of skills or knowledge to offer, I was feeling quite unconfident about it. I started asking around to my professors, to my parents, to kind of random people if anyone knew anyone in this particular field at all. I had sort of a regional and topic-based interests, at the time I thought that’s really what I wanted to go on, but really I knew I can’t be that picky so ‘anyone you could possibly introduce me to’ was sort of my ask. Someone that I really had not expected to know anyone in this field whatsoever said, “oh yeah, I know this person through this thing, why don’t you go talk to him.” And I had never heard of this particular person but I looked him up and he was in an organization that I was interested in and he did really interesting work that wasn’t directly related to what I thought I wanted to do but was nevertheless quite interesting. So I said sure, and this person connected me with this other person and I went to D.C. to meet this person. I don’t think I’d ever been to D.C., I’d never really done networking, I was wearing my blazer from high school, it was stressful. But I went in for this meeting and I think it was meant to be about 20 minutes long; my goal going in was to impress this person enough that he would recommend me to others in his organization that were more in the area I thought I wanted to work on. I knew this particular person was not in any sort of internship-related program, he didn’t take interns, his program didn’t take interns. So I thought, “well, the best I can get is that he’ll mention me to his colleague three floors down.” I went into the meeting and came out about an hour later with him looking at me and going, “Do you want to work for me?” and I was like, “of course, yes, are you serious?” and he said “Sure,” so I sent him a follow-up email that night when I got back to school and he said, “yeah, I’d really like you to work for me.” And I didn’t hear from him for four months which meant that I didn’t know if that was real or not. And then in May, he sent me an email through HR and it turned out it was real and that’s how I got my first summer internship which was amazing. I ended up working for him for two years and he’s still a mentor of mine to this day.
Ashley: I honestly think that I learned a lot from this episode personally. To a certain extent I think this whole series is just wish fulfillment on at least my part - I get to go to these brilliant women and ask them all of the questions about professional development that I’ve never gotten to ask, all at once. I get all of these different and interesting perspectives that I can apply to both my professional life and that I can also have the opportunity to share with our podcast audience and with the Women in Foreign Policy team. I think that’s just really massively valuable and to a certain extent, that in and of itself is an act of networking. I have a lot of great professional contacts now from working with Women in Foreign Policy and I have a much more robust network of people who work in the foreign policy fields that i’m interested in because I took on this podcasting project. As much fun as Annika and I have in building this podcast, we also are networking and getting to know Annika was an act of networking! Now I consider us friends and I feel like we have a relationship beyond the professional, but initially we were just networking, and that’s great. That kind of speaks to how relationships can grow and evolve and change over time. It’s important to remember that networking is just making professional friends.
Annika: I totally agree, Ashley. I love when Hilary in our conversation said “most of networking is just reminding people that you exist.” I think it’s so true. I remember I learned a few years ago about this concept called ‘weak ties’, I don’t know if any of you have heard of it, but it’s basically this idea that we develop weak ties - maybe they’re people that you’ve met once or twice or you’ve had coffee with a couple of times, maybe all you’ve done is exchange messages on LinkedIn - that’s a weak tie to that person. The next time that you’re going and you’re looking for a job or for an academic opportunity or maybe you’re hiring someone and you’re looking for somebody to fill the position - you then can go to all of your weak ties and you’re that much more likely to find somebody who’s a great fit or to find a position that’s a great fit for you. I think often it can feel slightly uncomfortable because we’re used to building strong ties and we’re used to building friendships, etc. Like Ashley said, we’ve become friends now but when we started we were weakly tied to one another. Having a certain comfort level with those weak ties is really important and really at the core of networking.
I’m definitely biased and I love it but I’ve gotten every single job that I’ve had out of networking and out of building relationships with people. I hope that this convinced some of you to network a bit more, whether that’s going to events or, as some of the women recommended, just practicing with friends, going out to dinner with people, becoming a little bit more comfortable with reaching out to folks, I really hope you’ll do that! If you do, let’s say a year down the road, maybe you’re inspired by this and you get your dream job, don’t forget to tell us about it because we want to brag about your success to the rest of the community. We’d love to hear what happens.
Beyond that, though, we want to hear what you think about the podcast. As always, we’d love for this to be a conversation, so come talk to us on the internet. We’ll be back at the end of March with our next episode which is going to be on the transition from school life into the professional life. It will also be a part of this professional development series which I have to say, I love so much. Again, as Ashley mentioned at the beginning of the episode, if you have any other questions or topics that you want to hear discussed or if you have any specific questions about the transition from school to the professional world, please let us know. We’re on Twitter, we’re on email, we’re everywhere on the Internet. Our Twitter account is @WomeninFP, that’s our organization’s account. Both of us are also on Twitter and Instagram with our individual handles. Mine is @annikaep.
Ashley: I am also on Instagram and Twitter @vaguelyacademic. As we’ve mentioned, we’d love to hear from you, as we’ve mentioned, but also if you like the work we’re doing, please subscribe to this podcast on whatever podcast app you use. Please share this with your friends, share with your colleagues, share with your peers at school. And finally, if the work we’re doing really means a lot to you, consider supporting us via PayPal at lmgoulet or on Patreon at Women in Foreign Policy. We are an all-volunteer organization, Annika and I do not get compensated for our time, and so any support you can give us just helps us to make Women in Foreign Policy even better. We’re so grateful to have the opportunity to do this work and to have this platform and it’s really only from support from listeners and Women in Foreign Policy members like you that we get to continue doing this work.
Annika: And finally, we have a new podcast assistant helping us on the podcast and we’re super excited to know her and so grateful for all of her help. Thank you so much, Nina, we really appreciate it. We so appreciate and value your time, thank you for spending it with us. Talk to you next month!
Annika & Ashley: Bye!