The Importance of Networking and Escaping the Comfort Zone

By Angela Ramirez

I moved to the Austin area about six months ago and have yet to fully put myself “out there” on a personal and professional level. Networking is an area in which I am unfamiliar, yet know it’s important as I get my feet wet in the communications field. As an introvert, large meetings invite social anxiety, but I recently took a leap of faith and went to Women Communicators of Austin’s “Connect Over Cocktails”. With much of the space being occupied by supportive women, I instantly felt more comfortable at this event. After a glass of pinot noir, I even had enough courage to sit at a table with three other ladies who managed to get me to open up about my future hopes for a public relations career.

Why networking is important

As someone who has just entered the workforce after college, entry-level jobs can be difficult to break into, and it’s particularly hard in a city where you don’t know many people. With groups such as PRSA Austin and WCA, networking is easily accessible as they host multiple events each month. Even without a membership, some networking events are open to the public and encourage first-time attendees. Networking helps build a reputation in the professional world, and by sharing your skills, you may appeal to those in need of certain experience.

The common phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” applies to the “real world” after university as I have learned in my six months post-grad. According to Forbes, at least 80% of jobs are filled through network connections, meaning there is much work to be done when building a professional network. The ladies I conversed with that evening were honest about the importance of building a reputation in a bustling city where networking happens practically 24/7, such as Austin.

A strong support system is what I crave for my career; accomplished by connecting with people and resources who may help me navigate the workforce. I need to work on creating impactful social ties to heighten professional relationships, and this event was a stepping stone to do that.

Networking is important not just for a career, but for personal growth as well. If you struggle to talk amongst large groups, as I do, it can be helpful to discover networking groups where everyone is there with the same career goals, which creates an atmosphere of reciprocity. It’s easy to meet great, resourceful people at these events. Networking not only helps one develop a distinguishable reputation; it also aids the development of interpersonal communication skills, which help establish a lasting career and large network.

I soon exchanged contacts with my new professional peers to stay connected about potential jobs where I can apply and grow my skills. This is something positive I have done for myself post-graduation, and the social anxiety has been lifted slightly as I realize that I am in charge of my career growth.

At the end of the event, I made a promise to myself to reach out to the new connections I made, thank those who have helped me so far and build as many long-lasting professional relationships as possible. It’s never easy beginning a new career in a new city. Networking can help you grow as an individual, help to narrow down professional goals, as well as build a new group of friends. My advice to anyone looking to grow professionally is to step out of your comfort zone and start in-person networking as soon as possible!