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Harness the benefits of networking: 9 tips

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On July 7, 2020, the UC Alumni Career Network tapped into a topic that’s crucial for career development: support networks. The hour-long webinar, “Women + Work: Finding a support network to maximize your impact,” featured Dianna Henderson, chief of staff to the vice president of Human Resources and executive director of Human Resources policy, UC Office of the President, in conversation with a diverse group of UC alumnae representing a variety of industries and years of experience:

  • Mylene Barizo, IT Human Resource Director, The Boeing Company (’91, UCLA)
  • SHAVONE Charles, Director, Consumer Communications, VSCO (’12, UC Merced)
  • Christina Mangurian, Professor and Vice Chair for Diversity and Health Equity, Department of Psychiatry, UCSF (’03, UCSF)
  • Roz Samimi, North America and Latin American Lean In Circles and Company Engagement Senior Associate, Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation (’17, UC Berkeley)
  • Stina Trainor, Head of Policy Visits, Facebook, (’04, UC Irvine)

Watch the video now


Ready to harness the benefits of networking? Try these tips!  

1.     Acknowledge that you need support

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re aware of the value a support network can bring. But professional networks aren’t nice to have for career development — they’re a must-have. “You can’t do everything on your own,” says SHAVONE Charles. “To continue evolving and to keep challenging yourself, you’re going to need help — and access to more resources. It’s so important to have mobility outside of your immediate environment.” SHAVONE points out that you might not even be aware of some of the ways in which your talents could be leveraged in a role or industry outside what you’re used to. “[Think beyond what] you might imagine being possible, sitting where you are right now. There might be bigger ideas out there for you or other ways you could add value.” Mentors and peers in your network can help you discover and leverage your skills for new opportunities.

2.     Connect with your peers

When you think of networking and mentorship, you might picture senior leaders. But people who are in a similar role or career stage can offer valuable insight and support. “Looking at our colleagues and recognizing their strengths lets us lean on them and we are able, together, to push forward in our careers,” says Stina Trainor. “Peer mentorship has been huge for me. The women I have met over the past 15 years have grown with me. We have hired each other, we have recommended each other and we’ve linked each other up because we were in those same moments together.” While Christina Mangurian attended a women’s leadership conference, she met a small group of like-minded women in a similar place in their careers and lives and realized how powerful it could be to have these connections on a regular basis. At UCSF, she built a successful internal peer network of fellow providers who were also early-career women trying to advance professionally.

3.     Take advantage of workplace networking groups

If your company has employee interest groups — cultural affinity groups, women’s groups, LGBTQ+ groups, etc. — join those that interest you and take an active role in their success. Mylene Barizo points out that these spaces provide an opportunity to develop leadership skills, identify and connect with mentors, network, and get the word out about career opportunities. The comfortable, collegial environment of these groups can allow less confident people to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. And, she adds, “Demonstrating leadership ability within these employee groups is an impactful way to prove your leadership ability — skills that can carry over to professional aspects of your career.”   

4.     Create your own workplace network

While joining a networking group at work sounds easy enough, you might find that there isn’t an existing one that reflects your identity or passions. What to do? Create your own. “Start small,” advises Roz Samimi. “I guarantee you that other women in your organization are looking for this resource as well. Call on a couple of like-minded colleagues, and don’t be scared about starting small. You will grow, once people start finding out about you. And, there will be power in numbers.” Over time, Roz says, your group will expand and you will be able to demonstrate your effectiveness through past programming and membership numbers. At this point, you can approach senior leadership with a notable impact and request to formalize the group.

5.     When seeking mentors, be focused and strategic

Be thoughtful about what you hope to learn from a potential mentor person. “Remember that mentors are busy people,” says Roz. “Make your question as specific as possible. Ask if you can put some time on their calendar — half an hour, or even 15 minutes — to get their advice on one specific thing.” Mylene advises to consider yourself building a board of directors. “This group should be able to “advocate, sponsor and hip-check you if you’re not quite fluent in certain languages of business,” she says. “That support network — both internal and external to my experience… has really provided diversity of thought; diversity of approach.” And, SHAVONE points out, “You never know where you’ll find a mentor.” While it might seem ideal to have a mentor who can empathize with your unique life experiences — particularly as a person of color or a woman — such mentors are not often widely available. But don’t discount people based on appearances: Even if someone doesn’t look like you, they could be a strong mentor and advocate for your success. 

6.     Be proactive

The panelists all emphasized that their success — and the networks they have benefitted from — have resulted from their own hard work and proactivity. “My approach has always been that when I see a gap, I try to fill it; where I see an opportunity, I take up space. Whatever support you think you need, find it, create it and make it,” SHAVONE says. She adds, “Sitting down with people for informational interviews, especially people outside your immediate circle, job function or area of expertise is a great way to build allies and find mentors.” Stina agrees. “There’s a great quote by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, ‘If there’s no seat at the table, bring your own folding chair.’ If you see people gathering at work, ask to be included. It can be uncomfortable for a lot of people to self-advocate, but those who don’t ask don’t get. You will always be surprised by how eager people are to help.”

7.     Communicate your value — but listen, too

Being able to communicate your value and doing so regularly, particularly within your network, is essential. “When you’re thinking about that concept, ‘Who do you know?’ I would also ask ‘Who knows you? How well does your network truly understand the values, skills and abilities that you can bring to an organization, a project or a concept? Support needs to be a give and take,” says Mylene. Stina adds: “When you’re networking, you might think that you need to need to promote yourself, but you will learn a lot more and get a lot more out of it if you spend more time listening to what the person is trying to explain about how they got where they are.” 

8.     Seize the power of collective impact

One of the best parts of having a network? Being part of a strong group of like-minded people who you can call upon when something needs to change. As one example, the women’s professional group that Christina founded at UCSF was able to collectively advocate for expanded paid family leave. And, says Roz, sometimes, employees experiencing sexism or racism at work might initially believe they are the ones at fault, “but when you come together and have candid conversations, you might realize that it’s the system and it’s something that you can work together to try and change. Then, you can capture your own data to elevate issues to senior leaders.” And, collective action can benefit your employer as well. “None of us can get everything done,” says Mylene. “Networking really is about how to utilize and leverage the various aspects of a function, of a business unit, to collaboratively be able to execute.”

9.     Remember that networking = community-building

The idea of networking can be a little intimidating, particularly if you’ve never done it before. No one wants to cold-call a senior leader to request an interview; if you’re introverted, the idea of attending a “networking event” might be outside your comfort zone. “Think of your network as a community,” advises Roz. “This mindset that can help you become more comfortable with meeting people and building that personal board of directors that Mylene talked about and the peer support network that Christina was talking about. One last tip: Your network is a great place to turn to expand even further.  “When networking, at the end of each conversation, ask if that person has two people they would recommend for you to connect with,” suggests Stina.

For more topical career-development advice, visit the Alumni Career Network website. And, check out our next episode!

UC Alumni Career Network: Acing the Interview 

Whether you’re an experienced professional or a recent graduate, an effective interview is critical to landing your next opportunity.  From pre-recorded video interviews to panel-style committee interviews, learn what you need to do to put your best foot forward and walk out with a job offer in hand.  Join our panel of career experts for a solution-focused session on effective interview techniques, strategies for preparing for the interview and common mistakes to avoid. This episode will feature:

  • Samantha Luu, Recruiter, ServiceTitan (’13, UCI)
  • Shane Hillers, Senior Program Manager, Google Cloud (’12, UCSC)
  • Irene I. Quevedo, Executive Director, Operation Jump Start and Founder & Partner, Level Up Latina LLC (’03, UCSB)

Join us Aug. 19 from 12-1 p.m. (Pacific). Register now.

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