I was 18 when I first heard the term “networking.”

In my first week of university, a professor declared to my class, “You will find your first job out of university and afterwards through networking.”  Before this moment, I had not heard about the concept of “networking.” Not fully understanding what it entailed, I was confused and concerned about my future. Being a first-generation student – meaning I had no guidance from close friends and family – I wasn’t familiar with how to navigate university in general. To then have this pressure placed on me was overwhelming. To overcome this pressure and stress, I had to learn how to network and determine what “networking” meant to me through trial and error.  

Networking Attempts & Reflections 

I’m a social person. I thought the way to network was by attending big events, but I never felt comfortable. 

I found myself exhausted after these events and without meaningful experiences or connections under my belt. I also tried using an app for professional networking but found it uninspiring. Even though I love the energy of big events, I was surprised to notice that most large, impersonal networking approaches weren’t for me.  

During all these networking attempts, my mind was focused on using networking to find a job and so I focused on career-related topics. When I reflect, I think a large part of the reason I felt awkward was because I believed networking was only for getting a job.  

Changing my approach: Informational Interviews 

Things changed for my relationship with networking after I stopped focusing on getting a job and started focusing on the person I was meeting with. I went from attending large events to conducting informational interviews – also known as coffee chats.  

Informational interviews were recommended to me often, but I was never taught how to conduct one. I found it daunting to ask for career advice and interview someone about their own career at the same time.

I conducted my first informational interview at the start of COVID-19 when I was exploring different career paths because I had lost a few opportunities due to the hiring freeze because of the pandemic. I did these informational interviews because I wanted to learn more about career paths that interested me beyond the job posts I saw every day.  The advice I got from the coffee chats was useful, but the interaction still felt like it could be more enjoyable and meaningful. 

I connected most with people whom I was curious about as a person. When I took the time to ask questions about their interests, I listened, and asked follow-up questions. That was a lightbulb moment for me! 

Staying Curious 

Now, I only attend small events and conduct informational interviews that pique my interest. These formats allow me to spend my time getting to know at least one person, have a meaningful interaction and leave without feeling awkward or burnt out. 

Networking to me now means staying curious, and at the end of the day, having a real conversation with the person across from you helps you find people with similar core values.  Building long-lasting relationships is how I made networking work for me! Image depicting lightbulb saying tips for informational interviews. text says Conduct research. Look up solutions to what you are struggling with and find what works best for you, through self-reflection, trial & error, and speaking to your support system. Be Prepared. The key to overcoming the awkwardness of networking is being prepared. I do as much research as I can to ask questions that will help me. It helps me feel more at ease in my interview. Take initiative and reach out to people. You will always be anxious if you sit around and wait for it to go away on its own. Those who want, or can will respond to your message. Keep going until you hear back! Be curious about those you meet and have an open mind. Be honest about what you need help with, and why you need help.


This blog post was written by Promi Begum of the First Work Youth Council.

Categories: Career Advice, Emotional Intelligence, Networking, Personal Story / Published On: October 19th, 2022 /