networking 101

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Recently my friend from high school texted me with this question: "Teach me how to network. It makes me scared."

Networking is scary; it's completely out of one's comfort zone to reach out to a stranger with the personal interest to get ahead in your career. How seemingly selfish.

So I decided to just take this opportunity and turn it into a Q+A post. (: Networking for me has become a habit and also led to great purposeful relationships and mentors. Small efforts of networking showed others that I was serious about my career; and so they were willing to help guide me in the right direction or lead me to those who can take me somewhere.

Don't think networking is relevant to you? Allow me to convince you.

Networking is important necessary. For those who think their laundry list of leadership skills and experiences will omit them from the horror of networking, let me remind you of this. It's not what you know, it's who you know. The employee of [dream company] is more likely to hire his son, even if he's an unqualified druggie, along with his unqualified druggie friends, over you. Any day. Truth: people are more likely to help out people they like or know over a stranger. Wouldn't you? You need an "in"— a foot in the door, and the only way to get that is through networking. 

You learn (a lot).  As college students, we really don't have any idea what the real world is like. Or what the industry we're pursuing is really like. Even if we have a sparkling 4.0 as a GPA, we don't have a clue. All we know is limited to the dated textbooks and reminisces of has-been professors. So what we need, is a safe way to understand the job; first, to make sure it's the job you want. And second, to show the recruiter that you're the best candidate for the job. How can you accurately market yourself for a job if you don't know what the job entails? Recruiters will be impressed of how aligned your experience and their prospectives are.

It's not superficial. Some people are weary with the concept of networking because the relationships seem need-based or forced. But like everything else, you get what you make out of it. All relationships have a purpose. We have gym buddies, study buddies, classmates, roommates; and now it's time for us to develop colleagues. People who challenge you to be more ambitious, people who connect you to resources, people who can relate to where you are. Networking does not mean contacting people when you need something. It's intentionally building relationships. What does that look like? When you come across an article that might be of interest to them, send it their way. When you haven't spoken to them in awhile, drop by to say hello and update how you're doing (and then ask them how they are doing). You want to be fresh in their mind as "the person to go to" in terms of your profession. And eventually, like most organic relationships, you guys may or may not actually like each other (gasp); and these efforts to stay in contact won't be so forced. And that my friends, is
how babies are made how networking is done effectively.

So hopefully you understand the positive effects of networking more than you did before you read this. Let's begin on HOW to start your networking endeavor.

Get your name out there. Where? Everywhere. Literally. It's a small, in-direct step; but it'll help you eventually connect to the people you want to talk to. And it'll remind people that you're there. Digitally, you want to be present; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog sites, online portfolios. Just to name a few. Don't just leave your page static; update. Each update will bring your name to the top of their news feed. Outside of the digital landscape requires a little more effort. Meet with professors. Attend informational sessions. Develop a relationship with a worker at the career center. And when you do attend these things...

Always ask for a business card.  If you ever have a question or comment directed towards them, you won't have to worry about that one person you met once upon a time. You'll have the means to do so. Can't think of a reason to contact them? Create one. Make up a reason just so they remember you and notice that you are courteous. Thank them for their time. Bring up a new point or article that reminded you of what you guys talked about. Ask them a quick question. Schedule a time to grab coffee.

Join a club. This is something easy to do; especially if you're on a college campus. I know, there are expensive membership fees and it seems like all they do is go on bar crawls. Join them, because in a few years, those are the people who are going to be in the same work field as you, and you want to be friends with them. And also, it develops a good practice of working with others that you wouldn't necessarily be friends with. It'll teach you how to be a good teammate, to speak boldly and pitch new ideas, to make new friends, etc.

Be nice (to everyone). Everyone has a story to share, so be nice to them. Even if they are difficult to work with. Even if they are rude. Even if they are lazy. Do it; because it really is a small world, and you never know where they will be in the future. You never want to burn bridges. That's the number one "no" to networking.

Contact alumni. Learn about the students who graduated from the same program you are in. Where did they go post-grad? How did they get there? And if you find someone who is on a path you are interested in, reach out. Don't be hesitant or fear that you will be a creep— you already have the common ground, alma mater, and they'll be flattered you trust their opinion. Once you decide who to contact; find their email or connect on LinkedIn. Introduce who you are and that you're curious to learn more about their job as well as how they got there. Have a list of questions ready to ask them. (Don't forget to say thank you.)

Cold call. That means contacting people you don't know. Look at companies you are interested in and figure out recruiters' contact information. Email them and politely let them know you are curious to learn more about company culture as well as what kind of employees they look for. Schedule a phone interview; or if you're in town, ask to take them out to coffee. Conversations like this are so much better than just handing your resume onto a job board; because this is when you can showcase your personality and ambition and professionalism. You can also sneak in your resume at the end if it seems appropriate. It's the scariest, but the most worth it. You will never know where that conversation will take you; maybe not an immediate offer, but a connection.

Make weekly goals. If it's not in your comfort zone to reach out to a stranger, it'll most likely never happen unless you create a tangible goal. For me, I make a goal to reach out to two people each week; as well as help two people each week. I don't always meet the quota, but it keeps me in check. Trust me, it was nerve wrecking the first time; I stumbled over my words, I called them by the wrong name, I lost their business card, etc. But again, practice makes perfect. And the more you network, the easier it'll become. Some have led to dead ends, and some have led to great relationships. Some have taken a lot of investment and involvement, others required quick emails. In this case, quantity will lead to quality.

Lastly, be a human. Remember that the people you  are networking with, or even the people who are looking to hire, are first and foremost people. Just like you. And people are the same; they like nice people, interesting people, people who remind them of themselves. So don't forget your personality when you network; because that might be your golden ticket. At the end of the day, people want those they can trust to do their work and wouldn't mind staying at the office together til 10 pm if needed.

So, don't forget to smile. Don't forget to laugh. Don't forget to talk about your dog, or your favorite show, or secret hidden talent. And lastly, don't forget to breathe. (:

Good luck! And see every opportunity as a learning experience.


I know that was really long; hopefully some points were helpful. Some points were vague but not always obvious. If you'd like me to expand on some points, I'd gladly do so. That might be easier. For example; what questions to ask when you meet up with someone, how to properly write an email, how to create a Linkedin profile, etc. Comment below if you'd like me to expand on a topic or comment below if you have a networking tip!


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