Reframing networking: Indigenous relationality
By: Nicholet Deschine Parkhurst
Tribal affiliation: Húŋkpapȟa & Diné
Study: Ph.D. in Justice Studies
As an undergraduate, I thought I knew what networking entailed. I attended career fairs and placed my name on lists to receive information about upcoming jobs. At graduate school fairs, I grabbed pamphlets on graduate programs I might be interested in after college. I was doing what I had understood networking to be: attend fairs, hand out business cards, and collect information on future opportunities. My efforts at these fairs never panned out as I mostly ended up with a pile of business cards and pamphlets but no meaningful connections.
In reflection, I never actually learned how to network or what networking really is about. Professional networking is basically using the connections, or people, in our networks to gain or share a benefit, such as a job lead. Networks are the various people we have connections with, usually along a common interest. We are members of multiple networks, such as our groups of high school friends or work colleagues. Our connections with those in these networks vary from close relationships, like mentors or colleagues, to distant relationships like a peer from high school who we don’t interact with regularly. Networking events are opportunities to expand our network or join a new one when we meet new people and make meaningful connections.
The concept “network” is another way of describing an act that we as Indigenous people already do: showing relationality with others. The act of relationship building has been useful to our ancestors in developing trade routes, taking care of those in a community, and the gifting and trading of resources. In this sense, Natives have always networked by building mutual relationships with those we’re connected to.
This different perspective definitely changed how I approach and think of networking. Networking is about making a connection with another person, having an authentic conversation, and building a relationship. These connections may, in time, lead to mentors and access to future resources. Networking is also about knowing your value in a relationship and what you have to offer to strengthen an organization or a cause. With this outlook, networking no longer happens solely at networking events but rather in our everyday academic and professional lives. Whether you’re giving a poster research presentation to an audience, sharing feedback with a peer, or asking questions in a webinar, each interaction is an opportunity to build authentic and meaningful relationships that could be beneficial in the future.
Tips for building relationships at networking events
- Have a game plan. Focus on who you’d like to meet and why. Do your research to see which businesses and organizations you have an interest in meeting.
- Practice your elevator pitch. This is a statement, usually less than a minute, that shares who you are and what you do. Describe what you have studied/researched, relevant work experience or prior internship, and your goals. Differentiate yourself from others — describe what value you bring to the table.
- Bring a buddy. If you’re nervous about meeting new people, a buddy can help you feel more comfortable and confident. But remember: your goal is to meet new people, so don’t stand by the water cooler only talking to your buddy.
During the event:
- Reciprocate the conversation. Ask what others do. Try to guide the conversation to your benefit by asking questions. Even conversations about commonalities and similar interests build connections.
- Make connections with peers. Meeting peers in your industry could be mutually beneficial for future collaborations or even to share resources and information about other opportunities.
- Practice politely leaving conversations. Conversations should be respectful and polite. In case you’re in a conversation that misses the mark, practice strategies to politely exit the conversation.
After the event:
- Make notes about the contacts you’ve made and who you want to follow-up with.
- Follow-up communication is important soon after a networking event, especially if you asked a person if you could stay in contact with them or if you told someone you would email them your resume.
- Remember that building professional relationships takes time.
- Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the process of networking is the same even if the venue has shifted virtually. Virtual networking presents unique challenges in making authentic connections or feeling lost in a huge virtual audience. This is where personal follow-ups beyond the virtual chat box can be important.
Sun Devils, take advantage of these university resources:
- ASU Career and Professional Development Services
- ASU Alumni Career and Professional Development Services
- AIS 440: Cultural Professionalism for undergraduate students
- GRD 791: Preparing Future Faculty & Scholars for masters and doctoral students