“I shudder when I hear ‘networking’”

The beginning of my conversation with Bridget (Looby) Staffileno, Vice President of Community Affairs for Catholic Federal Credit Union worried me just a little. After all, this was supposed to be a chat about how executives at leading financial institutions use networking to succeed in their positions. Fortunately, she quickly clarified what she meant.

“Networking has such a bad reputation. Too many people think of it as ‘sales’. What I do is ‘relationship building’.”

Whew! OK, this suddenly looked a lot more promising.

When Bridget talks about her job and activities, you see that she doesn’t hold anything back. She’s an active participant of any group in which she takes part. In fact, she tends to help run many groups, being on the boards of several organizations in the Saginaw area and Michigan in general. Not surprisingly, she takes that idea of running out on the road, having completed seven Boston marathons.

She shows that same level of energy wherever she goes.

“When I’m out in the community representing Catholic Federal, my mission is to make sure I’m educating, helping, and inspiring.”

“Networking can’t be one-sided. That’s not how it works.” In fact, when she meets new people, even potential members she focuses only on how she can help them. “‘What’s in it for me’ doesn’t work in long-term relationships.”

Despite her level of energy, Bridget admits that she has had her own challenges with networking. “When I started working for Catholic Federal, I didn’t have a financial background. When I was at an industry event and someone asked me what our asset size was, I had to go look up what they were talking about!” Even being an extrovert, she felt at a disadvantage. Her secret?

“The bottom line is we’ve all been there.”

She recommends to anyone who is new to an industry or even just a networking group to look for a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Anytime I’m asked to be a mentor or to help, I’m absolutely flattered.” By asking, you are paying them a compliment and you both end up better off for the connections you create.