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 spreadsheet. 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 recent grad of 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!”
How to use informational interviews
At times, people will tell you that they’re not hiring, but would love to meet with you for an informational interview—which is yet another opportunity for you to meet with people in the industry and expand your contacts. So what exactly is an informational interview? The concept is actually pretty basic. The interviewer wants to learn a little about you, just as you want to learn a little about the interviewer and the company that he or she represents. Essentially, it is the same as a real interview, except without the possibility of an immediate job opening within the company.
The best source for finding people to have informational interviews is to contact those who have already offered to help you and ask them to go out for coffee because you have a few questions. While at these meetings with people you already know, ask them for any referrals of other people they might know in your desired industry. Send an email to these referrals requesting an informational interview. Before you know it, you’ll have a number of these informational interviews lined up.
“In preparing for these informational interviews, develop an introduction that outlines your degree/major, along with why you chose this and what you seek,” Dezell says. “It will be more longer and more detailed than the introduction you give at a networking event. Add that you’re also exploring what other opportunities may be out there that you haven’t considered. The focus of these meetings is to seek advice. DON’T ask for job referrals. Trust that you make a favorable impression, the referrals will follow.”
Using social media as a networking tool
If you don’t have a LinkedIn or a Twitter account, you’re missing out on a great resource for both networking and job searching.
Dezell recommends that students create a LinkedIn profile and begin to explore the site’s potential. “Check out the sites of desired companies and see what connections you may have that could provide information/contacts on the company,” he says. “Associations will have pages and groups, so join these as well. Look out for announcements of events you can attend.”
With Twitter being one of the primary social media tools currently used, you can connect with people all over the world who have similar interests as you. For example, if you’re interested in advertising, you can follow people who work at advertising agencies. Chances are, they will follow you back and you might even engage in some advertising-related conversations.
“Another way to use Twitter is to follow the thought leaders in your desired fields, as well as those at desired companies,” Dezell says. “This will keep you abreast of industry trends as well as help prepare for job interviews. By seeing what type of information a hiring manager sends out on Twitter, you can gauge what he or she believes is most important. This can be great preparation for a successful job interview.”
Still scared? Don’t worry, it might take a while for you to get a hang of the whole networking thing. But pretty soon you might even find yourself liking it.
So get started networking now collegiettes, you’ll be glad you did. Good luck!