A few weeks ago I had a conversation that inspired me. Just before I moved back to university I caught up with a very good friend who I’ve known since the beginning of secondary school. Naturally we don’t see each other or talk as much as we used to but whenever we do, we always manage to take something meaningful from the conversation, which is a quality of our friendship that I’m grateful for.
This friend of mine started his industry placement two weeks ago and from the story he told me of how he secured it, I took a very important message. He spent a good part of his second year applying for placements, attending interviews and unfortunately being unable to secure one. It was only a few weeks before he was supposed to go back to complete his third year that he found fortune. The short version of the story goes like this:
He served a lady in his workplace who asked him how long he had been there. After explaining that he’d been there for a few years but now works on and off because of uni, she asked what he studied. He told her and explained how he was likely to go back to uni instead of doing a placement like he had planned. To his surprise, she knew a manager of a firm in the relevant industry who had an opportunity available and offered to link them up. You can probably guess the rest from there.
So what’s this “very important” message I took from that? By nature, I tend to keep myself to myself when in public. Maybe it’s the London environment I’ve grown up in, maybe it’s my fear of failure and my comfort zone trapping me or maybe it’s a combination of them all, but I rarely open myself up to spontaneous conversation with strangers. His story made it clear to me that you really never know who could change your life, and that by opening yourself up to these spontaneous conversations you’re also networking without realising. You can see how true this is in his case; a seemingly regular conversation with an unfamiliar customer turned into an amazing opportunity for his career.
Previously, I understood networking to be something professionals did in contrived settings with other professionals and mostly within their own industries – which is not totally wrong – but there is a whole other side to it that I didn’t understand before. Networking can and should also be a habit, rather than just an event. Networking is something that can be done with anyone, on any day and anywhere we find ourselves.
Every time we leave our houses to go to university, work or wherever we need to be, we almost always see a new face. Every time we leave our houses to take a journey or to run an errand, there is almost always an opportunity to create a new dialogue. The one person you interact with in passing could be able to do something major for you, even if not them then maybe someone they know. The one person you interact with in passing, you could be able to do something major for, but how would you ever know if you never create that dialogue? I’m not trying to encourage those of you reading this to start talking to every single new face you come across because that’s unrealistic, rather to just be more conscious of and try to create these new dialogues where appropriate.
A few weeks ago I had a conversation that inspired me. This one conversation inspired me to open myself up to new dialogues and develop the habit of networking in everyday situations. I encourage those of you who can relate to this to do as I will. Just talk. Talk more spontaneously to more unfamiliar people. We’ve all heard the age old cliché that who you know is just as important as what you know and my friend’s situation proves just that. Even if you don’t currently know the right person or people who can help you get to where you want to be, you probably just haven’t met them yet and by networking habitually, you probably will eventually.
You probably wouldn’t believe me if I said that only 10 minutes after I finished writing this in my university library, a student who I’d never met before and was working across from me approached me to engage in spontaneous conversation. When explaining why he approached me, his exact words were “it’s good to meet people” and although I didn’t say it, I thank him for doing so because it really underlined what I’d spent hours trying to express in this post.
This post has since been featured on FWRD, an online publication on Medium which aims to share ideas, thoughts and perspectives. You can check out the feature here. Warm thanks to Samuel for the opportunity, be sure to check out some of the great content on FWRD also!