Networking: What It Really Means and How To Do It Right
Network: As a college student, you hear this word all the time – from professors, advisers, parents, employers – it’s everywhere. It’s the “that’s hot” of the business world. But what exactly is networking and how should you go about it? Networking is communicating and interacting with people to “exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career” according to Google. And Google’s right. We network to introduce ourselves to people who can introduce us to other people. And that’s usually the extent of it, right? We’re never taught quite the right way to go about it, it’s just a “hey, you should be networking!” and that’s about it. Well I learned (the long and awkward way) how to network and who to network with. Here’s how…
1. Start early – Networking takes time; your first email exchange isn’t going to result in a landed job. Board the networking boat early on, first semester even, so by summer, you have solid connections who know you and would be willing to help you out.
Use LinkedIn. Hopefully you all have LinkedIn profiles and if not, that’s your #1! Once you’re on LinkedIn, follow companies you’re interested in, join groups of careers and fields you’re interested in, and make “connections” (the “friend requesting” of LinkedIn).
In some groups, there are “Introduce Yourself” sections where you can write a short blurb and even find other people with the career you’re interested in! I connected with a woman working in fashion who was willing to talk to me on the phone just to answer a few questions!
I also connected with a woman who graduated college a few years before me with the same degree. We connected via a professor and she actually emailed me when she saw open positions at her company! Talk about going above and beyond.
Connect all over! Ask your parents, friends, your friends’ parents, classmates, professors, employers – they all have connections, and ones that could be very valuable to you. And think outside the box… Your parents may not have your dream job, but they could work with people that do. Know any athletes at school? Maybe they can connect you with some sportswear brands. The opportunities are there, you just have to find them.
Once you’ve hopefully annoyed your friends and family enough to get you some names and emails, organize all your info and get cracking!
To start an email: Introduce yourself. You can literally make your subject line “Introduction.” Tell them who you are and why you’re interested in what they do, and be genuine. Contact them as if you’re looking for advice from a mentor. In some cases, your connection to them will have given them a fair warning, so they might be expecting you.
Ask questions and don’t do all the talking. People love talking about themselves, so why not give them the opportunity? You told them how you’re an Education Major and you’re interested in teaching middle school students… but ask them about their journey. Where did they start out? Did they know they wanted to teach that grade? What are the struggles that come with teaching? Whatever you’re major may be, those who you’re networking with will have a valuable story for you. And asking about their path will show you’re not just in it for connections – you want advice, you want to learn, and you want to hear from those that are in the field.
Be punctial. You want to seem eager and interested in your exchanges, so stay on top of emails and even ask to schedule a call if they have the time. That’ll show them your enthusiasm and how serious you are about that field or company.
After getting on a somewhat casual basis with your connections, tell them you’ve been looking into the available positions at their company, and you want to let them know how it goes, or that you’d love to be connected with someone in a particular department (if they know anyone, and if they’re not in the department you’re interested in already). Chances are, they know you want a connection, but after getting to know you, they may jump on the opportunity to help! Just don’t sound like you’re asking for a reference; the last thing you want to do is make it clear to them you just want a connection and that’s it.
Follow up with connections after applying. Email them a quick, “Thank you” for all of their help and you’ll be sure to keep them in the loop. If you’ve done everything right up to this point, they’ll be excited to hear about the outcome.
Keep in touch whether you get the job or not. Even if you receive that dreaded “you’re not the right fit for this position” email or you slip up on the interview, still keep in touch with connections. They may still want to help, give you advice, or at least know that you valued their help – which you do. Don’t let that go underappreciated! If anything, you take a mentor and future connection out of your networking, so it’s a win no matter what!
And most of all, don’t get discouraged! I made connections that didn’t get me very far and ones that I still contact just to get an initial “Hello.” It’ll take time. But like they say now, it’s not always what you know, but who you know! Good luck!!