I showed pigs growing up. When I was in high school and thinking about college and career, I often wished I could start expanding my network. I wanted to meet people who had careers that interested me. (In high school, I wanted to be a farm broadcaster.) I wanted to talk to students a few years older than me who were at a college I wanted to learn more about. (You can major in Agricultural Communication?) Sometimes, I really wanted to talk to a professional whose work I admired. (I listened to the same voices on the radio each day and wanted to know more about their career path.)
Since I graduated from high school pre-social media (but post-AOL Instant Messenger for those keeping track), the avenues for networking were limited. But today, there are several options for networking online in addition to the tried-and-true.
Here are seven ways to build your professional network in the stock show industry:
- A good handshake and introduction – I don’t believe any social media platform or technology will ever take the place of a good handshake and introduction. This one is simple. Practice this skill. Then use it to introduce yourself to that speaker who came to your class, the professional who took time to judge the contest you’re participating in, and the junior board member who goes to that college you think is cool.
- Volunteer at events – Want to get in the same room as the above mentioned individuals? Show up at events, participate, and start volunteering to help. I still remember meeting Ed Johnson, a farm broadcasting legend, at my county fair because I was involved in a leadership role at the hog show the day he was there. Later, I often had a chance to meet leaders in the showpig industry simply by working in the swine barn at the state fair. But what if you can’t make it to events? Keep reading…
- Facebook – There’s more to Facebook than friend-ing everyone you’ve ever met. Join groups and actively participate. Follow pages you’re interested in and comment on posts. There are lots of great opportunities to engage in conversation that is relevant to your career interests.
- LinkedIn – Connecting on LinkedIn (accompanied by a brief personal note) can be a perfect follow-up to interacting with a professional in real life. Attended a panel discussion at a student conference? Introduced yourself to someone from a national commodity organization at a leadership event? Connect with them on LinkedIn and have a killer LinkedIn profile to represent your personal brand.
- Twitter and Instagram – Feel free to tweet at folks, but keep it professional. Comment on Instagram posts, but use the same words you’d be comfortable using in a in-person conversation. Social platforms can be great for putting yourself out there in the conversation – just make sure you’re doing so in a way that reflects a young professional.
- Blog comments – Blogs are often overlooked as a space to network as a young professional. Read an article you like? Maybe you found the article via a Facebook post, but consider commenting on the original blog post. A well-crafted, thoughtful comment can serve as a wonderful introduction to the post’s author or the blog owner. When it comes to college and careers, blogs can help you find great information and give you a chance to connect with others.
- Email – Sometimes an email is best. Stand out from the crowd by constructing a thoughtful email with proper grammar and spelling, as though you were sending a letter in the mail.
Whether you attend every show in your state or just a few each year, there are plenty of opportunities to network in person and online. I’ve always believed that the livestock industry is full of people who are willing to help, teach and mentor, so don’t hesitate to reach out!
Marlene Eick is a storyteller and coach. As co-owner of Herdmark Media, she helps businesses in agriculture tell their story. As a leadership and career coach, she helps people discover the stories within themselves.