The Time is NOW to Practice Safe Networking

By now we’ve all seen the news about the scores of powerful men recently accused of sexual harassment, from Harvey to Kevin to Alfred. Seeing this abuse of power is an important reminder to be safe when networking with more senior ‘professionals’ and to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.

This is especially palpable for me as manager of several alumni-student networking programs at an elite liberal arts college. We know the benefits of networking: building relationships, gaining knowledge about a career field/function/company, finding a champion who will put your resume in the pile or an advocate who will sing your praises when you’re due a promotion, and more.

Networking is essential to a successful career.

But often times it’s hard enough to get students and alumni to step out of their comfort zones and network at all. Common deterrents include:

  • The Fear Factor: They won’t write back!
  • The Confidence Factor: They won’t write back to me! 
  • The Knowledge Gap Factor: I don’t know what to say!
  • The False Expectations Factor: I don’t want “advice” – I need a job! 

So when we finally get over all of these humps, it’s a win, right? Maybe.

Brandeis alumna Eleanor McManus ’99 recently spoke out about being sexually harassed as a new grad while on an informational interview with then-ABC News journalist Mark Halperin. In spite of this, she went on to have a successful career as senior producer of Larry King Live. In an interview with Megyn Kelly, Eleanor explained that she chose to share her story publicly after hearing that other women did not pursue careers in journalism after similar incidents.

While we can’t control what others may do, we do have control over ourselves. We need to remind our clients and each other that a meeting is between two parties and you have the power to end it. And if something goes wrong, you can protect yourself and others by speaking up.

Here are some tips so that everyone can practice safe networking.

Meet in a public place.

Suggest meeting at a coffee shop instead of in someone’s office. If you are looking for a neutral meeting space, consider reserving space at your alma mater’s career center.

Use your own transportation.

Instead of accepting a ride, use your own car or public transportation so you are in control of the situation, including when you want to leave.

Leave alcohol out of it.

Drinking can complicate any situation, and cocktail networking receptions are no different. Keep it professional and use alcohol in moderation at networking events.

Trust your gut.

Most of the time you’ll know right away if something doesn’t feel right. If this happens, your first priority should be to get out of the situation to avoid escalation. Say you’re feeling sick, or you have another meeting to get to, and quickly excuse yourself.

Tell someone.

If you have a meeting with a new contact, tell someone you trust where you’re going and let them know if the meeting goes south. The counselors at your career center can also help you consider your next steps.

Get a second opinion.

Networking can lead to some major “aha” moments that may make you re-chart the course of your career. But think twice before making a major decision based on a discussion with just one person. Talk to others to confirm if this is industry truth or personal opinion.

What other tips do you have for networking safely? Please share them in the comments below because we’re stronger together!

This post was originally published on LinkedIn and was shared with permission.

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