You can’t attend a University or a conference anymore without hearing that “building your network” is one of the most vital things that you need to do in order to succeed in the modern business world. This advice is too frequently received by its audience as a mechanical skill, to be learned and accomplished according to a specified process. As a result, many people feel intimidated by the word "networking" because they feel that they don't have the personality type to connect with a roomful of strangers at a function, or reach out to professionals they have had no prior contact with.
However, I think that there are many ways to network and it is less important how you do it compared to how you approach it. I’ve had the privilege of interacting with many Risk Management professionals this year, and in none of my interactions did I approach it as a task to be checked off my list. Rather, it was a genuine opportunity to build relationships with successful professionals who, at one point, were standing in my shoes. Based on their experience, they are often able to connect dots that we as young professionals don’t even know exist yet.
If nothing else, simply speaking to them about the things that you are passionate about often helps you self-identify which career possibilities excite you. Most people are extremely receptive when they see your passion, and that you wish to meaningfully contribute to something that they care about (whether it is with their specific company or not). Personally, getting to see how collaborative the Risk industry is has been one of the most energizing things about these conversations. It has led me to look forward to the day that I may get to work with many of these professionals, whether that’s this summer, or twenty years down the road.
This isn’t to say that all professional relationships blossom, or that some people aren’t more generous with their time than others. In my experience though, people are often enthusiastic about getting to provide their perspective (and sacrifice more of their valuable time than you could imagine), if you only ask. Rather than worrying about what to say when networking, focus on simply getting to know someone, and letting that person get to see who you are in the process, and you may be surprised with how naturally “networking” comes.