If you’ve been in college for at least a year, chances are somebody has spoken to you about the importance of networking, telling you that the most likely way you’ll land a job after graduation is through networking with alumni from your university, your professors, employers you meet at job fairs, etc. But what exactly is networking? The task itself seems both daunting and confusing.
So in order to help you out as you enter the world of “networking”—and to ease your fears a little bit—HC has spoken to Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker, and asked him to breakdown the process for collegiettes.
How to start the networking process
You’ve been told you should start “networking with professionals,” so now what? First, make sure you’re taking advantage of the opportunities happening right on campus—events scheduled by your college or university’s career center and alumni office. This is often the easiest way to start because professionals are coming to your school specifically to talk to students like you. Therefore, people will be more than happy to speak to you. Just make sure you have an idea of what you’d like to say about yourself and any questions you’d like to ask these professionals.
Dezell says the next step you should take is researching any professional associations in your area (such as the Public Relations Society of America, if you’re a public relations major) and contacting somebody to ask if you can attend meetings or events. Some organizations might even have mentor programs for students or recent graduates.
“I love networking! It’s great to make connections with people in your field of interest,” says Erica Avesian, a Her Campus contributing writer and student at the University of Michigan. “I go to alumni networking events at my school and keep in contact with people I have interned for or worked with in the past. I also network with people my age who have the same career interests as me. It’s great to bounce ideas off of each other and share valuable connections.”
If you’re a senior, you can take networking a step further. Chances are you’ve already come into contact with a number of professors and working professionals that have expressed their desire to give you advice. “Keep a record of all these people, because you will want to contact them to take them up on their offer,” Dezell says.
The best way to keep a record of these people is to create a Google doc excel sheet. Include the person’s name, contact information, professional title/organization, Twitter handle, when/where you met them and anything else you remember about your interaction—following this example:
Senior Account Executive
Located in Los Angeles
Met at job fair (January 2012), discussed ways I should improve my resume
In order to keep yourself from getting all of this information jumbled, add a final column where you can update the information. If you send the person a follow-up email after meeting them (which you should!), note this in your spreadsheet.
Heather Rinder, a Her Campus contributing writer and senior at Syracuse University, is using her most helpful contacts—previous bosses from her internships—for the post-grad job search. “I emailed them around December or January to remind them that I will be graduating this May,” Heather says. “I asked them to please let me know if they knew of any openings that they would be willing to recommend me for.”
Conquering the fear of putting yourself out there
If you’ve never been to a networking event, you might be a little fearful. Who should you try to speak to? What should you say? How can you get past awkward silences? However, like most things, networking becomes easier with practice.
“When attending your first events, ask friends in your same major to attend as well,” Dezell says. “This will not only help with anxieties, but make you less likely to bail out. Just avoid the temptation to become wallflowers and only speak with each other. Split up for 30 minutes to meet people, then get back together to compare notes.”
Once you’ve gotten brave enough to approach people, what should you say? Well, the worst thing you could do is to shake hands and stare at the person blankly for a couple minutes. Luckily, this can be avoided by a little preparation beforehand. First, you should walk up with confidence, being timid won’t help you out! Then, shake the person’s hand firmly and say, “Hi I’m Rebecca, how are you doing today?” Dezell suggests preparing a 30-second introduction about yourself, which should include what you’re studying, what information you’re looking for and any other pertinent information you think the person should know about you.
It’s also important that you come prepared with questions for the person, which can often help the conversation flow. Some standard questions include asking how they got started in the industry, what types of things they work on during an average day and what they suggest you do as a student looking to break into that industry.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that any situation could turn into networking, beyond just job fairs and school events. Therefore, it’s important to always be prepared. “Whenever I go out, I have my business cards at all times,” says Elyssa Goodman, Her Campus style editor. “I went to one event where I met the editor of a new magazine and she said she’d love to take a look at my work. I gave her my card with my website, she checked it out, and contacted me the next day to write for her!”