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How To Succeed When You Don’t Have Access To A Professional Network


I know now that a strong professional network is pretty much mandatory for career growth. But once upon a time, I didn’t have the same sense of pre-professionalism as many of my peers, let alone the network. As a first-generation college undergrad, my parents–Chilean immigrants who worked in the service industry their whole lives–didn’t push me toward a professional path. They never insisted I major in something “practical” or pursue internships that would lead to a financially stable job. They supported me as I explored my intellectual passions, traveled, learned about other cultures, and got to know myself.

I feel fortunate to have had that freedom. But by the time senior year arrived and graduation loomed near, I realized I was behind in the job-search process. The tech and startup opportunities I had become passionate about felt inaccessible. I needed a network.

The problem was that socially, I had always felt more comfortable in one-on-one settings. The idea of approaching a room full of strangers seemed too calculated and inauthentic. I had to retrain myself to stop thinking about networking as an aggressive, transactional process and instead approach it with curiosity and an open mind.


A few alumni events (and an evening sneaking into a gala on a dare) later, I was a convert. It turned out approaching strangers professionally, as opposed to socially, actually felt more authentic, because I could be transparent about my intentions. I met a lot of really fascinating people, some of whom were even able to help me with my job search. “Networking” no longer felt like a dirty word. It was actually kind of fun.

Of course, meeting interesting people was just the first step. Over time, I’ve worked to build long-term professional relationships with people I respect and admire. Precisely because I don’t come from a professional background and family, these relationships have been crucial to my advancement. They have become my references, connectors, advisers, and champions. If you weren’t born into a well-connected network, the best thing you can do is create one for yourself. Here are five tips for going about it.

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