Networking can have a negative connotation sometimes. Many imagine a room full of people in suits with a two drink maximum shuffling around business cards that, with luck, end up in somebody’s desk if not in the closest trash can.
For many people I know or have heard from, networking takes a lot of time. That may be true if you focus networking solely on attending events. But, if you learn to be creative, you’ll see the opportunities are right there in the places you visit on a daily basis. It’s about the bridges you form by learning about and communicating with others, from the people in your building to those you work with and from the events you attend to the places you always visit.
My story is like that of so many other immigrants, made of different colors and shades. Chavez had been in power for a few years when my mom, my sister, and I- living in Caracas at the time- began to feel a growing tension between his supporters and the opposition. By 2002, a relative living in Miami had reached out to us several times suggesting we consider moving to the United States. After a strike in 2003, my mom decided that my sister and I would have better opportunities if we did.
At first it felt strange, we didn’t know where or how we would get back on our feet. But with time, everything started to fall into place, and when I look back on it now, it was in great part great because of the people that have come across my path.
My first job in the city was in a dry cleaners in South Miami. From there, I would take the bus to Miami Dade College (MDC) Kendall Campus. My then supervisor, was a kind, Dominican woman, who would help me coordinate my hours so I could attend school at night and earn my Associates degree.
From a young age one of the things on my list had been to get a diploma from a reputable university. But once in Miami, I quickly realized I had no idea everything it would entail. Before graduating from MDC, I began to worry about the cost of attending Florida International University (not to mention that of a private university like University of Miami) to complete my Bachelor’s degree .
But through the insistence of my relatives and their friends, who worked at UM, I applied to several positions in the school. Within three months of completing my Associate’s degree at MDC, I got a job at the University of Miami as a receptionist.
I took a paycut of ten cents, and had to pay for parking, but as an employee I would get seven credits of tuition remission (most classes were 3 credits) - which seemed like an avenue to graduate. It also meant it would take me longer than expected, if I would only take two classes at a time.
As a full time employee, I had limitations as to when I could take classes during work hours. They would have to be under an hour long and I would have to use my lunch hour. The first couple semesters, this was not a problem, since many courses were taught in the format of M-W-F and lectures were 50 minutes long. I had just enough time to take one class during the day (run to and from without going over my lunch time) and I would take two other classes at night.
My dream was just to finish, but things were getting more difficult. As I moved along in my education, most classes were offered in a different format and would last one hour and fifteen minutes - which narrowed my choices and meant it would take me much longer to graduate.
Thankfully, I had an angel as a supervisor. After many meetings and talks between my supervisor and other heads of the department, they made it possible for hourly employees to take the one hour and fifteen minute long class per semester during their lunch hour, as long as the time would be made up after work or during lunch time any of the other days of the week. Having an advocate, a sponsor, once again, allowed me to get one step closer to my goal . She became my mentor, friend, and a sister in life.
Magic things happen when women support other women.
I completed my degree in two and a half years. In December of 2008, I was graduating cumlaude in Finance and I still couldn’t believe it. I can now recount how I did it, but none of this was evident when I started.
A few months before graduation, the country was rapidly diving into the Great Recession, thousands were losing their jobs in finance while I was trying to find one. Fortunately, the same supervisor I spoke about earlier had recommended that I apply to other positions within UM. I was offered one, which I gladly accepted.
During that time I decided to go back to school and take some additional accounting courses. My one friend from college, who I was able to stay in touch with because of similar schedules, jumped on the accounting wagon with me. He went full time, and I, again, took night classes.
Through him I met an amazing young woman who worked in a financial firm, where they needed an accountant. I interviewed with them, and soon after got an offer from them.
I accepted the offer from the financial firm and stayed there for seven years, and we parted ways last year when I decided it was time for a new adventure.
Having the qualifications and aptitude to work in a new organization and/or professional role, is certainly important to develop a career. But, an equally important part are the people you meet along the way- friends, classmates, supervisors- who turn into mentors, advocates, and cheerleaders of your development.
These serendipitous connections are my personal favorite. A couple of months ago, towards the end of the last Bridges Unite event, I swapped seats and ended up sitting behind two men. When Shanna Parra, Bridges Unite Co-Founder and panel moderator, invited people to form a new bridge, the men sitting in front of me turned around and to me they were there supporting their girlfriends.
One of them turned out to be the editor of the Bridges Blog, and now you can imagine how I got to this point.
My definition of networking has certainly changed over the years. To me, effective networking is a dance between listening to people’s story and telling your own, embarking in a path where similarities arise and stronger relationships are formed. Like in many occasions in my path, that’s where the bond happens.
I hope this story sparks your interest in reviewing yours and invites you to network with intention, making connections that may turn into friendships, mentorship opportunities, career advancement, new ventures or simply an interesting conversation.
About the Author:
Born and raised in Venezuela, Mari Agelvis has always been curious about human behavior. She began her career in Finance, but quickly found her passion in social entrepreneurship and helping others follow their heart and color outside the lines. Whether it's through traveling, and exploring the details of different cultures, or by being resourceful, and sharing useful information for those who are starting their business or pivoting their career, Mari is always looking to expose the tools that help us live more fulfilled lives.