Networking – a New Year’s Gift to Yourself

Lorri Olan

Networking is often perceived as a dirty word. Some feel uncomfortable “working a crowd” or think that “networking/making connections” is disingenuous when what you really want is a job. On the other hand, we all know natural “connectors” who enjoy meeting new people. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, networking is crucial to your job search and professional development.

Job candidates spend most of their time submitting blind applications to job postings, but research shows that approximately 70 percent of those who secure a position used personal connections. This might mean learning about a position before it is posted, having someone submit your materials on your behalf or leveraging an alumni referral to secure an interview. There is no doubt that the economy has made finding opportunities difficult. Networking, building relationships is a life-long skill that will help you throughout your career.

Where to start?

  1. Practice your “elevator” speech — a 30 second introduction about what you are interested in.
  2. Notify all contacts (professors, administrators, friends and family) of what you want to do.
  3. Meet with a counselor in Career Services.
  4. Attend educational programs with guest speakers. Introduce yourself afterward, ask if you can follow up and request a business card. Don’t forget to follow up.
  5. Use social media to connect with friends, alumni and organizations of interest.
  6. Reach out to alumni in the city where you will be for Winter Term. Send an e-mail and follow up with a phone call. Introduce yourself and explain why you are contacting them. Invite them to coffee or lunch. Plan to meet one new person each week.
  7. Arrange for informational interviews with contacts to learn more about their profession or career path.
  8. Attend alumni events. Stay in touch with interesting people you meet. Collect business cards. When you get home, write a few things on the back of the card — what the even was, what you talked about, and what you promised in the form of follow-up.
  9. As you build your network, keep track of whom you meet, how you last communicated, whom they introduced you to, and stay in touch. Advise them about your job search developments.
  10. Finally, demonstrate your appreciation. Say thank you with a handwritten note or home-baked cookies. If someone has gone above and beyond the call of “mentoring,” offer to help them with a project they are working on.

Tips for networking conversations: Networking is a two-way street. Give before getting. Ask open-ended questions. Listen. Find commonality.

People often remember one critical comment and ignore the accolades that surrounded it. People sometimes avoid networking for fear of failure, embarrassment, anxiety or rejection. Don’t let negative thoughts and fear derail your plans. One of my students was disappointed when not selected to interview with an employer. At the job fair conference, she met the employer, provided them with her materials and expressed her sincere interest in organization. By doing so, she learned they had not intentionally rejected her. The employer received so many applications that they did not review them all. Lesson learned? A “no” does not always mean “we are not interested.” Through her outreach and determination, she managed to secure a screening interview at the conference and was called back for a second interview with the organization.

Recommended reading: Susan RoAne’s How to Work a Room: Your Essential Guide to Savvy Socializing and “Turn Your Holiday Party Into a Career-Boosting Event: Build Relationships & Avoid Trouble,” available online (just Google the title).
Good luck with your exams and enjoy your real world experience!