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Networking: 5 Basics I’m Still Relearning

I’ve done my own fair share of fumbling around in the dark, attempting to land myself some “work experience”, which I’ve come to understand includes internships, part-time employment, and other formal arrangements with firms or public organizations. Stepping into college having secured very minimal experience in high school, the only formal experience I had was distinctly not related to my course of study or my anticipated career pathway in public administration—I worked at the ultimate national garden tourist destination Gardens by the Bay (Singapore) for two months as a ticketing sales representative. Upon arrival, I did not have the time or courage (something I now vaguely regret) to rush a business fraternity or a student organization that would more accurately hone my soft skills in networking.

Nevertheless, by developing these five soft skills through other involvements, I have managed to land multiple working experience opportunities since:

Cold-Emailing

Be polite, be succinct, be sincere. When looking for opportunities to intern or assist with research, it helps if you look at the people or centers that focus on topics you’re interested in, then shoot them a brief email explaining your interest and asking about the availability of any open positions. If you’re looking for the email address of teaching faculty at UCLA, there’s a campus directory database you can look them up in. Do ensure you’ve done your research before writing that email; be able to personalize that email by explaining why you’re looking to contact them, of all the people in the world. Don’t use a generic template. If you heard of them through someone else that they might know, reference that so you automatically become the friend of a friend, instead of staying a stranger that they’re less incentivised to assist.

This has worked for me on two occasions. Once I was able to land an internship with a voluntary welfare organization in Singapore that addresses family violence and child protection issues. I made sure to address my interest in women’s issues and some of the relevant background I had in advocacy. It worked a second time when I made contact with a research center on aging at UCLA to line up a future internship opportunity, making sure to discuss the coursework I’ve done that drove me to seek experience in analyzing the policy and frameworks tackling aging.

Crafting A Solid Resume

Keep it lean, keep it specific.

I’m honestly still tweaking my resume frequently based on advice that I hear and new experiences that I undergo. It is definitely helpful to prepare two things before you start making a resume. First, have a skeleton template where you can fill out all the basic information like your education background, community service experiences, contact details, etc. Second, make a document outlining all your work and project and extracurricular experiences—ideally in bullet point form with lots of data included because that seriously helps in quantifying the value of your role (and breaks up wordy chunks). When you’re applying for a different opportunity, copy-paste the relevant experience bullets into your resume.

You can also look at other people’s resumes and pick out things about them that impress you, then applying it to your own resume, be it a font choice or a neat inclusion of relevant college coursework. UCLA has also partnered with VMock software that uses artificial intelligence to advise you on the quality of your resume if you’d like a second opinion! 

Using LinkedIn

I’ll just come out and say it; LinkedIn is a mixed bag.

While it undoubtedly allows you a unique access to learning so much about and from other people’s work and educational experiences, it also exposes you to a lot of kooky content and occasionally, connections that will attempt to use it as a dating app. As someone that is naturally competitive, I also occasionally get overwhelmed by the myriad of meaningful things that everyone else seems to be doing, particularly during the summer period.

That said, LinkedIn is amazing for getting to know the faces behind recruitment teams. It is also unparalleled in offering inspiration to try out a great variety of experiences that will enhance your own understanding of an industry, like participating in company-organized competitions, taking online courses, looking through a guide to general interviews, and more. Most importantly, it allows easy access to quite literally making a connection with complete strangers, and because the profile you’ve set up is feels sociable by nature, I think it enhances the personality of the interaction. This helps you circumvent some of the awkwardness of cold-calling or cold-emailing, while also conveniently allowing you to directly cite some of their experiences in your message.

Using Campus Resources

UCLA has fortunately established many opportunities for you to connect with professionals, whether it be directly or through student organizations. There are virtual Networking Night events, Dinners for 12 Strangers, and a dozen other informal and formal networking opportunities that you can look out for here. To source for research assistant opportunities, you can also use the Undergraduate Research portals like I did last Spring. I ended up with a paid part-time research assistant role with a professor at the Anderson Graduate School of Management! This quarter I’m interning with a community development organization based in South Los Angeles, and my teammates and I secured this opportunity by participating in the Global Development Lab UCLA’s Social Impact eHack organized late last year!

In other words, opportunities to meet people and professionals are present everywhere. Don’t be afraid to look out for them.

Staying Hungry

Have the thick skin needed to follow-up and chase politely. Bump emails you’ve sent before that didn’t get a response, ideally with more information about yourself that may be relevant. If you’re connected with the person on social media, responding to their posts or stories may help to deepen that connection—although, if you’re not careful, this can border on insincerity. Connect with people you’re genuinely interested in, because that makes this whole networking thing effortless!

I hope that this article gives you some ideas on where to start if you’d like to gain more working experience while in college. I myself am still learning and relearning how to communicate my rationale for being interested in applying myself, my value as a contributor, and a dozen other small things that shape my profile as an applicant. I still haven’t cracked writing a solid cover letter, for example.

I’d like to wrap up with a final tip. Keep track of all the contacts you’ve made and all the applications you’ve submitted, so that you’ll never find yourself at a loss for what to say and so that you’re able to look back on all the progress you’ve made!

Audrey Choong is a Feature Writer for the UCLA Chapter of Her Campus. Currently, she is a 2nd year student Majoring in Economics and Minoring in Urban & Regional Studies from her home in Singapore. Audrey is passionate about community involvement and women's advocacy. In her free time, she loves baking, doodling in her bullet journal and exploring the city.
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