So you’ve finished university (phew!), found a new job (lucky you!), and finally found your niche in the workplace. You may have even made a few new friends, or participated in weekly lunch outings with other new coworkers that are your age. Fabulous! It really sounds like you’re fitting in and feeling included, which is a difficult thing in itself. And how lucky are you to have like-minded coworkers who are also interested in going to the beach on the weekend, buying tickets to that upcoming music festival, and generally enjoying the freedom that is our early- to mid-twenties (no kids! no responsibility!). You’re doing everything right, aren’t you… are you?
Well, maybe not. Yes, you’re fantastically educated and well-versed in technology, which many of the Gen-Xs may not be. And that means yes, you’ve certainly got the tools to be extremely productive and efficient at work. What more could you ask? I’m going to be real with you here: a lot more. As in about 30-years-worth-of-projects-and-experience more.
See, the problem with us millennials is that we think we’re the bees knees, and that because we know quicker, easier, and more high-tech ways to do things, that that’s all there is. But even though our older coworkers may prefer to write out calculations by hand, or file hard copies of their work, they’re the ones who’ve really got it down. Gen Xs didn’t have computers and IM and text messaging to learn the tricks of the trade; they only had each other. And because that was the only way to learn and improve (other than good old fashioned practice!), they gained something even more valuable along the way: a network.
Most of us have heard of this ‘networking’ phenomenon, but if you’re like me, you correlate that with an image of some sleazy dude in a three piece suit with more hair gel than Pauly D. What I didn’t realize though is that networking isn’t synonymous with going to cheesy career fairs and cocktail parties, handing out business cards faster than the auto-deal machine at the casino. Networking happens everywhere: in the lunchroom, at family dinners, I’ve even had a friend get a job overseas from a conversation on the bus.
Alright, fine, so you can network without the hair gel. But doing it in theory and actually practising it are two different things: where do I start? Well, let’s start at work. You might typically spend your free time mingling with your bestie at Starbucks, so start with coffee. I’ve personally always found ‘coffee chats’ to be a little intimidating (frankly, I’m a baby), so forget that business for now (and if you don’t have to, mad props to you, you gutsy champ). Why not invite some of your Gen X counterparts along for the daily caffeine trek? And along the way, ask them how their weekend was, ask them how long they’ve worked for the company, and find out where they worked before. Networking isn’t about ‘who are you, what do you do, and can you get me a job‘. Networking is about knowing people, helping them when you see fit, and asking them for help when you need it. People will help you if they know and like you–people aren’t going to help a name on a business card that only emails them for favours.
So that’s where you start: you start with what (and who) you know. Don’t be the narrow minded Gen Y who only sees the value in conversation with her friends. Be the Gen Y who is eager to build relationships with those with experience, industry smarts, and lots of information to share. And share more with others!
The best part about talking to people you already know is that it’s a no-pressure situation. Even with my quietest coworkers, I’ll just ask them about their lives. Where did you grow up? Why did you move to Vancouver? Where do you want to go from this job you’re in now? It’s so easy to be that motivated employee who’s desperate to get their name out there, and to be ‘seen’ by senior management, but oftentimes the goldmine of information is sitting a few desks over from you. Not in a corner office, not in the top-floor suite, but in the cubicle with the crappy overhead lighting right next door.
So for those of us who struggle a bit with networking (and I definitely do), don’t shun the concept altogether because the thought of it makes you nervous. Practice your skills with those you’re already comfortable around, but don’t necessarily know all that well, and eventually it will come. The workplace isn’t like high school, where you stick with your friends and let time roll by; it’s dynamic, it’s friendly, and it’s full of opportunity. The best part is, the more questions you ask and people you know, the more likely you’ll be to find new friends, find new mentors, or find new career paths and opportunities. What’s the worst that could happen? And the more preparation and networking you can accomplish now, the more rewarding your career will be. That, my friends, I can promise you.