ITFI Networking

The Power of Networking:
A Personal Lesson

What if I told you that it’s possible to land your dream job…by just putting yourself out there? It’s true – I’m proof that it can be done by networking.

I know, the word “networking” sends most people into a slight panic attack, but when done right, it can open doors, giving you access to opportunities beyond your wildest dreams.

I want to tell you a personal story that has turned into one of the biggest lessons I now teach my students about the power of networking and how to use it to create possibilities for yourself by pushing past your comfort zone and taking initiative.

Networking is defined as the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional contacts. So why don’t more of us take advantage of it? 

For one thing, it isn’t taught in a practical, real-life scenario type of way. In college, we were told time and time again that going to networking events  you know, those events where everyone has a name tag and awkwardly finds a person to talk to while holding a drink in one hand and a business card in the other would lead to all sorts of opportunities. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they don’t. I’m sure that if you know how to work the room and initiate compelling conversations, this method will work wonders for you.

However. I was never one of those people. Quite the opposite, actually.

I am what is known as an extroverted introvert. Growing up, I didn’t mind large, loud crowds of people because my family is large and LOUD. At the same time though, there was always a social anxiousness about me, whether it was overthinking what I should’ve said, being hesitant of saying the wrong thing or replaying the thing I did say that I convinced myself was wrong all while trying to hold a conversation.

It was exhausting.

SO WHAT CHANGED?

For one thing, I wanted my voice to be heard. I had all of these experiences and lessons that I wanted to put out into the world with the hope of helping others. It took me some time to realize this meant being an educator and I suspect that the moment I gave myself this new title and this new goal, with it came newfound courage to do the hard stuff, which in my case, was networking.

At the height of the pandemic, there was an app that surfaced called Clubhouse, I’m sure many of you have heard of it and are probably even on it. Back in 2020, the only way in was if you were an iPhone user and a friend invited you. Otherwise, you were waitlisted and kept out until someone let you in.

THE CLUBHOUSE APP

For those of you that have either never heard of it or never used it, Clubhouse is an audio based app that allows members to create rooms. These rooms are really just a space within the app where you can discuss anything. You create a title, invite members in and choose whether it’s a private or public room.

Once inside your room, there are 2 areas: the “Stage” where the creator of the room and anyone they invite up are and the Audience. Any members on stage have the ability to speak while everyone in the audience can only listen. Essentially, the room’s creator and any of their moderators on stage have the power to mute someone and bring them down to the audience where they lose the option to turn on their mic. 

This is great for when you are doing things like teaching, reading or even putting on a show as no one can interrupt. Clubhouse got so popular that at one point the members of the Broadway show, Lion King, did the entire show audio only. The industry followed suit and even held public singing auditions for other shows like Hamilton and Phantom of the Opera. It got pretty wild.

AN UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITY

At first, this shiny new app didn’t interest me until I realized the potential it had for reaching new students and teaching them fashion career lessons.

And that’s exactly what I did. 

For months, I would spend more hours on the app than I’d like to admit. I taught fashion career masterclasses on Mondays and Wednesdays, and hosted fashion rooms Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. These rooms were usually made up of panels with speakers from all over the world with varying levels of experience.

To be completely honest, the first few classes I taught were a disaster. My heart would race and palms would get sweaty. For some reason, speaking into my phone knowing people from all over the world were listening and not being able to see their faces was even more daunting to me than attending one of those networking events I hated. 

Over time though, I started to see that the stories I told and the lessons I taught were actually helping students, recent grads and people all over the world that had an interest in fashion as a career. This gave me the strength to continue showing up day after day, hour after hour until I got comfortable speaking. 

One of the most popular rooms I hosted was a weekly networking-focused room called Fashion Connections. I’d invite every single person that joined the room to come up on stage and introduce themselves, then provide either information that could help others starting out or if they were new, ask an industry question that anyone could answer. 

During one of these rooms, a woman came up and introduced herself. She was an industry veteran who took the concept of market week and showrooms and turned them into a virtual experience as a way to keep her business and the industry going during what seemed like a neverending pandemic.

I was so impressed and intrigued by what she had done that I decided to reach out to her separately and invite her to continue the conversation on a Zoom call. I was excited to speak with her because I was genuinely curious to know more about what she was doing and how she was doing it. I found her idea to be so innovative and resourceful. Those of you who know me know that those are my 2 absolute favorite qualities in a professional! 

I listened to her story, how she came up with her new business model and her vision for it in the future. When it was my turn to speak, I told her all about my fashion career and the programs I had created to help others break into the industry. It was a great conversation overall.

…So great, that at the end of it, she mentioned she wanted to connect me with someone who was looking for speakers at a fashion school. She thought this could help me get in front of more students and soon-to-be grads. I immediately said yes, excited for the possibility of speaking to students.

The woman she connected me with turned out to be the person in charge of a Continuing Education program at none other than the Fashion Institute of Technology. FIT – my dream school.

We talked for almost 3 hours about our careers, our experiences backstage at Fashion Week where we had both worked over 20 seasons. 

At the end of our conversation, as casually as if she was asking me to pass her the remote, she asked: “How would you like to teach at FIT?”

It was then I realized that our conversation had not only been a conversation, but an interview. I immediately said yes and asked her what she wanted me to teach. She said “Networking”.

Oh the irony of ironies, the girl who once hated networking events and speaking in public was now going to teach a course based on both. It felt like I had come to an internal full circle. 

This happened exactly 1 year ago today. Had you told me a year ago that I’d be teaching at FIT, I would’ve laughed and told you that my social anxiety never would’ve allowed me to do something as intimidating as that.

Yet here we are.

CONTENT FOR YOUR PROGRESS

LESSON 1: UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF NETWORKING
Who you meet and who they could connect you to will help you no matter where you are in your career, whether you’re just starting out or have been in it for years.

Leverage the list of people you are already connected to, see if there is anyone they can connect you to and focus on nurturing ALL of those relationships.

Professional platforms like Linkedin are a great way to practice this, though they’re not the only way as you saw from my example with Clubhouse. Engage with people’s posts, congratulate them on their successes and start thoughtful conversations.

Your goal should be to be seen as a great contact to have rather than just someone looking for a way to advance their career.

LESSON 2: NEVER CLOSE YOURSELF OFF TO OPPORTUNITIES
Without realizing it, this is what I did and had been doing for years by not stepping out of my comfort zone and putting myself out there.

Sometimes just starting a conversation with someone without a hidden agenda could result in a connection that could change your life. But the point here is to actually
start that conversation.

Listen to what is being said and ask questions. It’s this genuine conversation that enables you to meet new people, expand your network and possibly land opportunities that can further your career.

SURPRISE CONTENT

For those of you that are curious about Clubhouse, I have a massive guide on how to use it, common terms within the app and some ways it could help your business or career.

Grab your own copy of The Clubhouse Guide for Fashion Professionals here.

 

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