Sarah Sanchez‡, vice president, corporate trust team manager, has worked in corporate trust for more than a decade, managing a variety of deals for UMB Bank. She was recently elected to the National Women in Public Finance Board‡, an organization that advances women’s leadership opportunities by fostering relationships and providing educational activities and forums. Prior to being on the national board, she served the Kansas and Missouri chapter for five years.

As she reflects on her new role with the Women in Public Finance Board and her current role at UMB, she aims to help other women working in finance. Sarah’s career journey has been filled with key lessons learned, one of the biggest of which has been the importance of networking. Here, she shares her top tips for networking that she used in her own career path.

Learn from and team up with your co-workers

In my first year in Corporate Trust, I was fortunate to have a co-worker who had been in banking for 10+ years and had a particular expertise in the operational aspect of the business. This was a significant learning opportunity for me, as I had limited experience at the time working within a bank’s day-to-day functions. I not only watched how she worked and learned by listening, but I also proactively asked questions so I could grow as a professional.

At the same time that I was learning from my co-worker (while also studying for the bar), I was able to bring benefits of my own skill set to her by providing close legal analysis of key documents. As we were both in our first years as relationship managers, we were able to work together to learn two of the most vital parts of our roles. She taught me the operational piece and I taught her the legal piece.

By being open to learning from my peer and contributing my own knowledge base, I was able to network within the first organization I worked at and grow my role. This relationship was part of the reason I ended up here at UMB. Liz Angotti and I have continued to help each other grow in our careers and she played a vital role in getting me here to UMB.

Networking is not sales

To many, the idea of networking may seem only applicable to people in the sales world, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Networking is all about connecting with people you can learn from, providing support when you can, and forming mutually beneficial relationships.

Personally, each stage I’ve reached throughout my career has come about through networking. Being ingrained in both the overall Kansas City community as well as industry groups has allowed me to meet and stay in touch with people who have helped me transition and advance, and I’ve made it a priority to be a similar mentor and role model to others. Ultimately, networking isn’t about selling any particular product, it’s about making interpersonal bonds that help everyone progress.

Don’t skip the small stuff

We all know that conventions and conferences can be exhausting, and it can be tempting to skip the optional dinners, happy hours and coffees. However, times like these can provide the best opportunity to form the foundation of a new relationship. In these settings, people tend to let their walls down and be more conversational than they would be while attending a presentation. Even if it feels tiring, don’t miss these chances to make key connections.

Take the first step

Entering a room of strangers at an industry event can be intimidating, but remember that you’re likely not the only person who doesn’t know anyone else. If these situations make you nervous, take a deep breath, and look around for another person who may not be with a group. Take initiative and introduce yourself, and you’re likely to find that soon, others will join the conversation and everyone (including you) will feel more comfortable and having impactful discussions.

Similarly, be proactive about reaching out to new connections to grow your relationship by meeting over coffee, lunch or another forum. It’s been my personal experience that, if extended an invitation, most people will say yes and are happy to meet with you. The biggest barrier to growing connections is the fear of making the first step – but once you do that, you’re likely to reap the rewards of being proactive.

Networking can occur on a variety of levels, whether it’s with your teammates at work, within industry organizations or the overall community – and it can be as small as connecting with a coworker over coffee or as large as putting yourself forward for a national board election. Either way, I’ve found that progress comes through people and that there is great power in networking.

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