Music has Sinatra, Santana and Snoop. Fashion has bullet bras, bellbottoms and big hair. Obviously, musical tastes and fashions change over the years, but in the business world, networking never goes out of style. The old adage that “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is as true today as it was when Old Blue Eyes had the world on a string. We took a look at two different networking perspectives: a veteran male in the industrial sector and a more entry level female communications director. Despite their differences, both agree on networking’s worth.
Networking is Nothing New to Shane Wilkinson
Today, Shane Wilkinson is Vice President of Business Development at Turner Industries, a Baton Rouge-based, national player in the industrial services sector. He began working in the field for Exxon in his late teens and soon realized that showing up, putting forth effort and being willing to talk to supervisors and project managers helped him stand out on a job site of over 400 people. While he didn’t realize it at the time, his actions could clearly be labeled as networking and helped lay the groundwork for his career path.
Wilkinson left Exxon during the initial tech boom to study information technology and emerged with a job in Turner Industries’ IT department. “Working in IT at Turner allowed me to get to know a lot of people across the numerous divisions of the company including many of the upper management,” explained Wilkinson. “Having a relationship with those people and doing a good job when I worked with them was huge.” Although he left Turner for another opportunity, one of the managers told him, “I’ll have a new position soon that will be perfect for you and you’ll be back.” The manager was right. The new position opened up in about eight months and Wilkinson has been back at Turner for the last 20 years.
Wilkinson is in a business development role now, but said that the basics of networking have not changed over the years: do a good job, follow through and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Turner has relationships with global companies like his former employer, ExxonMobil, and he uses some of his team members to introduce him to key managers and decision makers. Since Turner partners with a number of subcontractors, Wilkinson finds that establishing relationships with those boots-on-the-ground workers is also important because they often have the inside track on upcoming projects before it gets to his level.
“Networking is still lots of old school cold calling and emailing though, or leaning on another person that you know,” he said. “In my job, it is also very important to attend trade shows and join industry associations like Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA), Associated Builders and Contractors, and Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance. I also sit on the LCA Ascension Community Advisory Panel board along with folks from the industries across this region including most of the heads of the local plants. I’ve grown relationships and really become friends with many of the people there.”
Danielle Martin’s Credits Her Networking Hustle for Her Job Today
Danielle Martin is Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives for the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation. However, like Shane Wilkinson, her career path was far from a straight line. Martin graduated from LSU in architecture in 2012. The economy was stagnant following the 2008 financial crisis and New Orleans was still recovering from Katrina, though she got an architecture job after school, the firm soon had to let her go. She worked at a few other positions but nothing quite stuck.
“I soon realized that who you know definitely matters, not to say that in a negative way, but it is very important to build relationships with people who have knowledge and resources.” At that time, she decided to take the approach of casting a wide net. She joined the Women’s Professional Network, St. Bernard Chamber Young Professionals and also YLC (Young Leadership Council) in New Orleans. Though she always considered herself to be more introverted and the thought of traditional networking seemed daunting, becoming involved in these organizations forced her out of her comfort zone. “Through these groups, I met people who shared the same interest as me, but did not have the same background,” she said. “YLC expanded my network of colleagues and increased my exposure to what’s out there, which was very helpful to someone like me who is shifting to a different industry or sector.”
Martin was running a fitness company and working as a florist when she crossed paths with the St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce. With a background in small business and her skills in project management from her architecture days, she was able to land a position with the chamber assisting with economic and community development. “Networking, when done properly, is not just small talk but nurturing long-term relationships with other people,” she explained. “I was also able to draw on the soft skills I developed from my increased engagement with organizations like YLC. The networking I did then has helped me hone skills I use in my job today and created leadership opportunities. I’ve been fortunate to serve on the YLC Board of Directors, the Nunez Community College Foundation Board, a 2018 GNO Inc. Emerge Summit speaker, and as the past chair of both the St. Bernard Young Professionals and Women’s Professional Network because of my focus on networking. ”
Changes in Networking
While both Martin and Wilkinson agree that the essence of networking has not changed in the sense that it’s built on a personal connection and meaningful relations. However, our tech-driven environment has the ability to both enhance networking and detract from it.
“LinkedIn has become a huge tool that has changed the game in networking allowing you to connect almost instantly even with people you’ve never met,” said Wilkinson. “And people can look at who you know digitally and make a judgment on your character.”
“Technology has given us more access to learn about industry organizations and changed our ability to learn more about people after we meet them,” stated Martin. “Networking is still a great way to bridge generational gaps, while online social platforms gives us better insight, more avenues to reach out once a connection is made.”
However, both agreed that the personal connection cannot be changed. If you rely solely on technology to network, it can detract from your ability to create that personal relationship upon which all networking is built. So, use all the tools at your disposal, but never lose that personal touch.
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