It was the summer I moved to Columbus, and I was having lunch with my mom at Fountain City Coffee. I had yet to find a job, and was unfamiliar with my new city and its people. The only sure thing I had was a passion; so it wasn’t surprising that as I looked out the window across the downtown street, the Rankin Arts Photography Center caught my eye.
Being an introvert at heart means exploring new territory on my own just doesn’t come naturally. So I went home that day still curious, not realizing that just over a year later my own photography would be on display in the building’s gallery. Two exhibits, eight photographs, one award, and a family of photographers later, I feel more than at home in the Rankin Arts Photography Center. And it’s all because I took a photography class.
If you’re looking for a way to build your network professionally or personally, you have to creatively see knew groups of people you’ve never met before. Whether you want to expand your business network, build your clientele, or meet social contacts, professional and personal enrichment classes are the perfect unexpected venue for growing your network. Here’s why:
Meet Like-Minded People
Networking is all about making connections. When you take an adult education course, you can build and expand your network by connecting with the other people in the class. You’re likely to already have some common interest, which makes breaking the ice easy. Once you get the conversation going, talk about professional organizations. Meeting similar-minded people puts you in a better position to hear about potential work opportunities, trends and happenings in the industry. If you are the creative type, you may even find someone to collaborate with in the future.
Network before You Need to
Building a network of people who trust you and think you’re talented will be invaluable to your career, and especially during a job search. But before you build your network, you have to build relationships. Taking a class, any class, gives you the opportunity to talk to people. Go to lunch. Meet for coffee before class. Stay connected through social media.
The key here is to understand that networking is not about what other people can do for you. Networking is about listening and helping others. One of the best ways to build a relationship is to offer something without expecting anything in return. Consider what knowledge, skills, or insight you have that you can offer. Adopting a selfless approach could prove to have more value. This generosity is sure to be appreciated and more likely to be reciprocated should you need to ask for something later.
Meet professionals in your field
Continuing Education instructors are field experts and well connected in their respective industries. They also are likely to have numerous personal and professional contacts that they might connect qualified students with. Another advantage here is the small class sizes and direct one-on-one opportunities you have with the instructor and other participants. This lessens the intimidation factor associated with traditional networking events, because it eliminates the obligation to work the room. For those who are introverts, this is especially advantageous, but everyone truly benefits from the familiarity of a small group. It’s an opportunity to focus on the quality of the contact rather than the quantity.
Everyone is Important
Whether you’ve registered for a course in Pilates or project management, everyone around you has potential to influence your network. Your classmates might hold positions at varying levels of authority in an industry. Take the initiative to introduce yourself. Remember names and titles, exchange business cards. This could be your next reference.
The key is to find people who are experienced in the areas in which you want to be experienced; talk to them and learn from them. Seeking out people that are in a different field than yours can also be beneficial. It’s likely that you can offer them something they cannot do on their own, and this leads to an opportunity for collaboration.
Challenge yourself to Learn a New Skill
There is a saying that if you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Taking a course means that you are looking for new knowledge, and that means you are in the presence of someone who knows something you don’t know. Learn from this person. Ask him how he got into his current job, what resources he recommends, what books you should read. Consider also taking a personal enrichment class that challenges you creatively. You never know, maybe that new watercolor technique you learned is your next great icebreaker at a future networking event.
If you are interested in learning a new skill, be sure to check out the many class options offered by Continuing Education at Columbus State University.
By Amanda Lewis
Continuing Education Programming Manager