Imagine this: You hop onto the Downtown 1 train to head home for the night. You’ve just left the office of your super glamorous magazine internship when you take a seat next to a young woman who just so happens to be reading your publication. “Great magazine,” you comment, frantically switching your pumps for some black flats instead. “Yes, it is... I just so happen to edit it,” the stranger says.
PAUSE. This, HC ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect opportunity to make a contact. This process is called networking – obtaining and sharing information about the industry you hope to work in with a more seasoned individual. Harvard alum and author of The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide Debra Shigley says it quite eloquently: Networking is about getting outside of yourself and your comfort zone. What should you do if this ever happens to you? Read on to get the scoop on how to build your own personal network and make a splash in the industry of your choice.
Step One: Start Small
Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have friends in high places just yet, because starting small is the foundation of building your own network. Just by having relatives and friends in your life, you’ve already opened yourself up to plenty of possibilities. It’s also a good idea to make strong friendships with classmates in your major courses. These will be your colleagues, so maintain contact with them. You never know – one of them could have an “in” that has you written all over it! There is always some sort of connection with the basic group of people in your life, so take some time to speak to them and brainstorm who they know, where, and how they can help you out.
Your college campus (though it may not be small) is the perfect place to start. With alumni connections and plenty of activities on-campus, there are so many opportunities to meet new people. “It may seem like common sense, but to make connections, you need to put yourself in a place where people congregate!” says Shigley. If you’re shy, ask a friend to tag along with you to a networking event to ease any tension or discomfort you’re feeling.
“My educational sorority is a great networking resource,” says University of Rhode Island marine biology major and Sigma Alpha member Nicole Leporacci. “We have people with the same majors as us come speak and we attend resume building workshops, too,” she says. The group stays in touch with chapters at other campuses, which helps them build connections across the nation.
Most majors have helpful networking groups. Check out your school’s activities office or career center for ideas if you aren’t already involved. Does your major not have a corresponding club? Make your own! It’ll look excellent on your resume.
- Public Relations Student Society of America http://www.prssa.org/
- Ed2010 for Magazine Journalists http://ed2010.com
- Technology Students of America for Scientists and Engineers http://www.tsaweb.org/
- American Academy of Physician Assistants http://www.aapa.org
- Business Professionals of America http://www.bpa.org/
Step Two: Make a Business Card
Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?, highly encourages making business cards way before you land your first real world gig. “It’s professional and it makes it easier to take advantage of chance encounters or connections. Rather than scrawling your contact information on scraps of paper, you just pull out your card,” she says. She recommends using a copy service center or investing in nice card stock. Include the specific area you’re an expert in (say, online journalism or accounting) and keep it classic – Don’t bedazzle it with stickers or glitter. Hofstra University Career Center Director Fred Burke says you should include full name, occupation (“Journalism Student”), email, and cell phone number. Try Vistaprint.com – it’s what the HC founders used!
Whether you’re at a party or wedding reception, there will be opportunities for you to meet people in your industry. “Offer someone your card only after chatting with them for a while,” Burke says. “It may not always be appropriate to give it to them, so don’t force it.”
You may be given a card before you have a chance to offer yours, which is a great sign. These cards may begin to pile up, so invest in a holder or input the card data into Excel. Hofstra University junior and RedCar intern Lauren keeps a Google Document sheet of all of the people she comes into contact with – it’s like the millenial’s rolodex.
Associate Editor of Hearst’s RealBeauty.com Ariana Finlayson says, “If someone gives you their business card, email to follow up shortly after. Be diplomatic, polite, and gracious -- It’s the difference between networking and not working.”
Step Three: Become a People Person
Reeves offers some basic tips for networking in her book. All of these hints deal with treating your contacts with respect, so read on:
- Make everything as easy as possiblefor the people who are trying to help you. Reeves says, “People help people who help them help them.” For instance, when asking for a reference letter from a networking pal, offer them all of the information when you first ask. Give them the deadline, a description of what it’s for, etc.
- Be easily reachable. Choose a form of communication that you are likely to be connected to. If your Gmail is constantly on your BlackBerry, use that as your contact information.
- Be respectful of other people’s time. Hearst Digital Media’s (and my super fantastic supervisor) Tammy Tibbetts recently tweeted, “Don’t send me your resume with the subject line ‘Urgent.’ It’s not.” Don’t be rude – people are busy and aren’t waiting with baited breath for your email/phone call.
- Don’t hound or pester people with your queries. If you don’t hear back from someone in a day, don’t assume they didn’t receive the message! Put yourself in their shoes and send another message in a week or two depending on the issue.
- Be appreciative and thoughtful. Remember, the people you network with are human beings; don’t make them feel used. Offer to do them a favor or send them a friendly email to brighten their day.
Step Four: Utilize Technology Tools
When it comes to your online presence, LinkedIn.com is your best friend. This is because it’s entirely professional; there are no social tools like instant messaging on this site. You are able to upload your resume and connect to others via direct relationship or mutual friends. This virtual instrument is a great way to keep track of your contacts and see what they’ve been up to. Once you’ve mastered how to navigate social networks in a professional manner, these are great ways to keep in touch with contacts.
Step Five: Perfect the First Impression
Besides school-related endeavors, you will meet new people completely unexpectedly. When meeting someone for the first time (like say, that confident magazine editor) Reeves advises you smile and shake their hand firmly. A firm handshake reflects confidence and is a positive way for someone to remember you. When the other person introduces herself, repeat her name aloud as a polite confirmation. Everyone likes the sound of her own name, and this shows that you’re paying attention and are genuinely interested. For instance:
You: Hello! I’m Perfect Candidate from Perfect Candidate University.
Dream Employer: Hi, I’m Ms. Dream Employer from Dream Company.
You: Ms. Dream Employer, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. If you aren’t too busy, I would love to speak with you about your company. If you’d prefer a different time, I would love your business card to follow-up with you at a more convenient date.
It helps to prepare ahead of time a mini-speech or appropriate anecdote to get the conversation going. Don’t make it seem rehearsed – be genuine and let your personality shine. It’s time to impress!
Step Six: Apply for Internships
Internships are yet another opportunity to network with people in your industry. Lauren utilizes these endeavors to make contacts. “I ask for contacts at my internship a few months in once I’ve proven myself. I usually touch base every few months to ask how they’re doing,” she says.
An internship is also an excellent opportunity to find a mentor: An older, more experienced person in your field. “A good mentor is someone who knows more than you do and is willing to help,” Reeves says.
Hi Dream Job, It’s Nice to Meet You!
Debra says, “Indiscriminately expand your social and professional circles, gathering acquaintances from different backgrounds, social circles, and professional spheres. Immersing yourself in new experiences is the best way to do this.” Take advantage of these tips – that way you’ll be the first to get a call from Ms. Dream Employer when Dream Job opens up.
Debra Shigley, author of The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide
Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Should I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?
Ariana Finlayson, Associate Editor of Hearst Digital Media’s RealBeauty.com
Tammy Tibbetts, Editor of Hearst Digital Media’s DonateMyDress.org
Fred Burke, Director of the Hofstra Career Center
Nicole Leporacci, University of Rhode Island sophomore
Lauren Taylor, Hofstra University junior and RedCar intern