Why Networking Matters for Young Professionals

As the convenience store and petroleum industry continues to evolve, training the leaders of tomorrow is more important than ever. That’s the driving force behind the National Advisory Group’s (NAG) Young Executives Organization (YEO).

This growing group of emerging industry leaders is keenly focused on education and networking with other next-generation executives who are facing similar challenges in the competitive convenience store industry—something that will be on full display at this month’s annual NAG Conference in Nashville.

This is not an easy industry for young professionals. In addition to learning the business, they are faced with other daunting challenges such as learning to negotiate with vendors, managing employees who can be much older than them and, perhaps most importantly, making connections with experienced professionals that can help them navigate the rocky terrain.

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This is where YEO can help. The association provides young executives a platform to demonstrate their leadership abilities and vision for the future while gaining valuable feedback from seasoned NAG members.

Jill Johnson, the president of Johnson Consulting Services, offered four strategies to help young executives enhance their networking efforts by being efficient, organized and focused.

• Build Relationships in Small Increments. Remember, older generations work off of relationships, not casual one-time meetings, said Johnson. Relationships built carefully over time—with mutual interests—can help define your career path.

“Building relationships with professionals is a skill, and like any new skill, you have to practice it over time. Be patient and let the natural timing work to your advantage,” Johnson said. “Slowly and carefully is better than rapid and all-in. Be selective and try not to cast your net too wide. You want networking connections that can help you in your field. As you gain confidence, learn to express yourself more clearly and ask insightful questions, which will also help you prepare for job interviews.

• Be Specific in Asking For What You Want. Don’t waste the time of your networking contacts. Be clear about what you are hoping to gain from the meeting. Tell them exactly what you want to do and why you think they can help you.

“Ask if there are any events or trade association meetings you should consider to help you build your network and gain some good foundational experience,” Johnson said. “Then respect their insight and follow up by attending and getting involved.”

• Face Time is Critical. We’re all too used to communicating by text and email. While that works in many situations, networking calls for much more personal methods. “You need to build a relationship. This means personal connections,” Johnson said. “People can only get to know, like you and want to help when they meet you in person. This takes more time and effort, but the truth is, networking takes work to build a relationship.”

• Use Your Expertise to Help Others. Today’s young executives are well ahead of the previous generations in technology. You can enhance your networking relationship by sharing something you learned about a new technology or simply send them links to articles on topics you think are relevant to the business leader’s industry.

“Share what you are learning as a way of thanking your new networking connection and keeping in touch. One interaction is not enough. Remember to pay it forward too by asking if there is anything you can do to for them,” Johnson said. “There might not yet be an answer, but it counts that you’re interested in a two-way street if possible. You may have insight on some emerging technology or simply an idea on a challenging problem they are having with a young professional on their team. Always remember: you have valuable knowledge, too.”

To learn more about the work the Young Executives Organization is doing, contact me at jlofstock@csdecisions.com.