When I hear the words “networking mixer,” I picture something like speed-dating for potential LinkedIn connections: a group of people in some hotel conference center, aggressively mingling, hoping to meet the man or woman who will hook them up with a job.
But that’s narrow-minded of me. There are plenty of other kinds of networking mixers. Like, in college, when your friend invites you to a party where you make more friends. Or when you’re up late working on a paper and you, your friend, and your friend’s friend decide to go grab coffee at the 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts. Or when you go to a barbecue and there are some people there you don’t know and you end up really hitting it off with a few of them.
See, you might not realize it, but in all of these instances, you’re networking. Because your “friends” and your “connections” don’t need to be mutually exclusive. If your college’s mission statement speaks the truth and you and your classmates really are the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, then why wouldn’t you consider your friends from school a valuable part of your professional network?
Maybe because you don’t want to be the type of person who “uses your friends” to get a job? Well, then I have good news: you’re not. It’s easy to confuse “receiving help from” with “using,” but there is a distinct difference. Using someone essentially means you built your relationship with him or her for the purpose of personal gain. This isn’t what I’m talking about. The people I’m talking about are already your friends, and you’re not begging them for help; you’re establishing a relationship in which you help each other, whether it be personally or professionally.
Yes, it is important to have barriers between the different areas of your life, but those barriers can be permeable. You can make friends at work, and likewise, you can work with your friends. In short, when you’re building your professional network, you don’t always need to look way off into the distance. You’ve got valuable connections all around you. And you know what else? You’re a valuable connection too.