As a student, your immediate focus may rest on learning new vocabulary words, attending classes, completing homework assignments and passing exams. But in time you’ll enter the workforce, where you’ll compete for clients with other massage therapists.
One way to get a jump on the competition is through networking — and it’s never too early to start!
The Purpose of Networking
According to Grant van der Hast, managing director of AngloLiners, a UK-based company that offers road marking services, networking serves several purposes, but primarily aims to connect business professionals who derive mutual benefit from the encounters.
Networking events afford professionals the opportunity to meet others with specialized skills, find new clients and develop new relationships. By attending such events to start networking, students have a chance to meet established business professionals, engage in meaningful conversations, gain insight into the realities of life after school and impress potential employers.
Van der Hast pointed out that most graduates share similar skills and experience levels, thus they may seem indistinguishable from one another.
“This is where networking comes in. Employers prefer to hire those they already know, as it saves time when recruiting,” van der Hast said, noting that connecting with management or staff before seeking employment at a particular company gives you “one step ahead of the rest of the competition.”
Fortunately, an increasing number of schools and colleges are realizing that networking events are the best way to give their students a head start in the job market. If your school holds networking events, van der Hast strongly recommends attending and speaking with as many different individuals as possible. By asking questions and showing an interest in their business, you can make a positive first impression, he noted.
Make — and Maintain — Connections
Once you’ve connected with a business professional through networking, it’s important to maintain that connection. van der Hast suggests asking permission to follow the individual on LinkedIn.
“This will allow you to follow each other’s professional progress and activities. To keep yourself at the forefront of their minds, make sure you follow and engage with their posts,” he said, “giving a simple ‘like’ or congratulatory comment whenever they pass a milestone, achieve a landmark accomplishment or post something of interest to you. This will help them remember who you are.”
Create a Pathway
Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, a personal finance advice and information website, sees networking as preparation for the future.
“Networking … is part practice test and part setting up your future. When you make connections to potential future employers, you’re creating a pathway for yourself,” he said. “You won’t always land a job just because you know someone, but you might get recommended or suggested by people you’ve met along the way. And if you can network with fellow students who are moving toward entrepreneurship, that can give you a foundation connection with the next big company.”
Cast a Wide Net
Although seeking networking opportunities with like-minded individuals is a good starting point, Steiner suggests spreading a wide net.
“Finding people who have similar goals can be beneficial because it gives you that foot in the door. But also consider [connecting with] financial experts or marketing experts. These are useful for basically any industry,” he said.
Once you’ve started networking and established a connection, be sure to keep the lines of communication open, Steiner said.
“Staying connected can be simple so long as you’re consistent. Send cards that say you’re thinking of them, thank them for opportunities that might present themselves, and even just sending a handwritten letter to keep them posted on your career movements can be enough to stay connected,” he said.
Enjoy the Benefits
Damian Birkel, founder and executive director of Professionals In Transition, has witnessed firsthand the professional benefits networking can yield.
“My daughter is a newly licensed massage therapist and has begun to build her business exclusively through networking in a new city,” he said. “It is the fastest path to success.”
He reported that fewer than six months of networking resulted in several major opportunities for his daughter. She has been featured on the local NPR station twice to talk about the positive effects of massage and has appeared on The Morning Show to promote the Eastern Medicine Festival, which she created to bring practitioners from the region together. She has also made connections with and solicited advice from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).
Connect Online — and In Person
While LinkedIn is a great way to build your online network, in-person networking is vital, according to Steiner.
“A savvy massage therapy student will begin to build relationships with practicing, successful massage therapists in advance of their graduation. Most [established practitioners] will acknowledge their struggle to begin their practice and will be willing to help, but you have to muster the courage to ask.”
Students could start networking by asking the school counselor or a trusted teacher for the names of a few people in the massage industry who might offer advice. Steiner suggests contacting these individuals and requesting a brief meeting, clearly indicating that there is no expectation of a job offer.
“As a student, you want to learn from their expertise,” he said. By asking pertinent questions and carefully listening to the responses, a student can begin building a strong career foundation even before graduation.
Start Networking Now
Networking is not just about finding a job, nor is it a one-time experience.
“The bottom line — networking is the process of building lifelong personal and business relationships,” Steiner said, “and the sooner you learn how, the better.”
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.