By Nate Johnson
Networking is a great skill if you know how to use it. Networking can open opportunities through relationships.
Part of my time at the Disney College Program was devoted to networking. Disney promotes a culture of networking and I took advantage of my access. I had eighty percent response rates from people within a week, which is high compared to other corporations. Here’s what I learned.
DON’T ASK FOR A JOB! I don’t know why other people still do this. I ran into too many people in the college program who would do this. It never ended well. For me, networking was a way to learn about different departments. I felt I was going back to school, Disney-style. I specifically wanted to see how the different lines of businesses worked together. I wanted to know: how do so many moving parts work together?
Research. The people I met with came from a reference within the company or spoke at one of my classes. I researched each person I met with. I checked out his or her LinkedIn profile to see how each person navigated their Disney careers. I could ask specific questions on certain roles or what it was like working internationally with Disney.
There’s not one ladder to climb. Each person I met with had their own story. Each found their own path. Each had worked within multiple lines of the company. Where ever you start your career, the possibilities are endless and uniquely your own.
Be prepared. Luck is preparedness plus opportunity. Opportunity is out of my control. One person wants to move back home and live a simpler life. Someone else wants to start their own company and their position is open. I can’t control when those opportunities come. I can prepare to be ready when they do come. I can make sure my resume is up to date. I can be looking at internal job postings. I can continue my education. I can do a fantastic job in my current position.
Patience. Everyone I networked with had been with the company for at least TEN YEARS. Most college grads I know can’t wait six months without feeling “stuck” or see if the grass is greener somewhere else. Rome wasn’t built in one day and neither are careers.
Work. Can I do a good job in my current position? Can I be the kind of person who causes people to light up when I come into work? Focus on where you currently are before trying to get to that corner office or that VP title.
Be prepared to talk about yourself. Whenever I got my questions finished, the person I would meet with would ask me questions about myself. They would ask where I see myself in the company or how my college program was going. I was not prepared to answer and talk about myself. That forced me to speak into existence the goals I have. I also talked about my travels after my internship ended. Everyone enjoyed hearing that and told me of some of their own travels. We talked about more than just work.
Talk with the administrative assistants. While waiting, I would strike up conversations with the assistants. They turned into many other engaging conversations. Many of them, too, had been in the college program and we swapped stories.
Drink the free water. Sometimes I would get a bottle of water while I waited. I appreciated that and it kept me hydrated.
Follow Up. I always sent a thank you e-mail that night after a networking event. That’s something I hear a lot of people don’t do.
So, why network? I left Disney to travel the world. I didn’t get an “in” at Disney or a shortcut to a new job or promotion. That’s not the point. For me, I loved learning about how the company works. I was fascinated by each person’s journey and found common threads that I can apply when I come back to Disney after I finish traveling the world. People need to know not only who you are but what you’re able to do. That takes work in the form of networking. When I go back, I won’t be starting from square one. I’ll have people who know who I am and what I do. From there, opportunities can happen. You have to put yourself out there first.