Something I’ve been asking a lot of music professionals recently is, “What even is networking?” I usually ask this shortly after asking questions like “How was your day?” and “Did you know that I wrote a book?”
The answers I get, in order, are usually, “Fine,” “No! I’ll go buy it!” and “It’s just making friends with people.”
That’s really all that networking is, honestly. It’s a stereotypical business term – something opaque and confusing and a little intimidating that distracts from a simple meaning. Networking is just making friends with people. If you have ever made a single acquaintance in your life, you have all the skills necessary to network successfully. You’ll be able to network with professors and other professionals alike. (Here’s an article on how to talk to your professors specifically.) With that being said, here are some guidelines for successfully networking with people.
Don’t throw your business card at them. If you don’t have a business card, this means don’t constantly talk about your SkillZ and ExPeRiEnCe in the field. If a stranger came up to you and started bragging about how well they use Excel, or talking about how well they can fix bikes, would that make you want to continue talking to them? Or would they be that weird person who was really pumped about bikes and Excel? Don’t be that person. Talk about things other than your major, until it comes up naturally.
Don’t be a suck-up. If the person recently won an award, or if they gave a presentation that you attended, you can mention that. Briefly. One or two sentences. If you spend five minutes just talking about how amazing they are, they will think that A.) you’re boring, B.) you’re not sincere, and C.) you want something from them. Those are not things that are conducive to becoming this person’s friend.
Ask not what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. People are much more likely to remember you if you agreed to volunteer for an event, or if you helped them out with something. When someone you’re interested in connecting with asks for help, be willing and able to step in. You’re more likely to remember someone who helped you pick stuff up when you’ve dropped something than you are to remember people who just walked by, after all.
Don’t dismiss someone as not useful. People from your past will ALWAYS pop back up later in life. I recently got an internship because I messaged a choir director I had in middle school. Everyone has something to offer – you just have to be on the lookout for it.
Always Be Kind. Being kind hurts no one. Obviously, if someone is a complete douche you don’t need to let them walk all over you. However, just because you don’t want to continue to interact with someone does not mean you stop showing them basic human courtesy. There are a couple people I dislike in my life whom I still behave perfectly politely around, because that is the kind of person I want to be. And if people see that you’re pleasant to be around, that’s a huge point in your favor. If they have to choose between someone pleasant and an equally-competent jerk, they will choose the pleasant person every time.
Keep up with old acquaintances. Not just on Facebook, either. I have a spreadsheet of people I try to email a minimum of once every three months in order to both remind them that I exist, and to keep up with their lives. It keeps you fresh in their minds and also is just a generally nice thing to do.
Basically, just don’t overthink it. Networking is just making friends, and keeping contact with them. You’ve got this.