Networking is the single most effective way to find a job. Statistics vary somewhat from study to study, but Forbes notes that over 40% of all people find their position through networking, and a report from ABC News puts this number as high as 80%! Clearly, a network can be beneficial when it comes to job seeking. In addition to finding your next job, a strong network can assist in the career exploration process. By talking to or shadowing professionals you can learn more about what jobs look like on a day-to-day basis, and figure out what a good fit for you might be.
College students and professionals alike shy away from the idea of approaching people they don’t know. Putting yourself out there to meet and confidently introduce yourself to professionals whom you admire is a nerve-racking experience!
So how can you navigate the networking experience, and even benefit from it? Here are Five Basic Networking Tips to get you started!
- Think of Networking as Relationship Building
Often, we approach networking with the mindset that we want to meet people who can help us. Instead, re-frame networking as relationship building. When you think of networking as relationship building, it’s less about getting what you want from someone, and more about making a real connection. Get to know others, and consider how you may both be able to help one another. Meet new people with the intention of creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
Networking is a two-way street! Consider what your new contact’s goals and needs may be, and consider connecting them with beneficial opportunities, resources and contacts. Be generous! If you see a job posting in a field your friend is in, send it their way!
- Get Out There
When you spend time involved in your community or on campus, you will naturally begin meeting people with similar interests and goals. Getting involved with clubs, intramural sports or attending events can provide you with insight into your own interests and strengths. The more you introduce yourself to other people, the more natural it will be for you to introduce yourself in a professional or more formal networking setting. Conversational skills come with practice. Be friendly and introduce yourself to the people around you, and you’ll be surprised at the connections you can make!
Sometimes networking takes place at conferences or at events specifically aimed at connecting like-minded professionals to one another. Formal networking opportunities can be a great way to meet professionals who are further along in their careers. Networking events are opportunities for you to meet professionals, learn about companies, and to consider whether a field is a good fit for you.
- Be Confident
Give yourself a pep talk before attending a career fair or networking event. Hold yourself with confidence! Stand up straight, smile, be prepared to share a bit about yourself, and get to know the person you are meeting.
If you are nervous about making conversation or mingling with unfamiliar people, brainstorm a few questions before a networking event or professional conference. Asking questions and thoughtfully listening to your new contact’s response can stimulate a natural conversation. Show interest in what the other person shares with you, and be genuine in your responses. Networking doesn’t have to be serious all the time! You can certainly connect with individuals about topics like your hobbies, where you live, even the weather!
When you believe in yourself, are authentic and have confidence it shows! If you’re struggling in this department, consider heeding the advice to “fake it until you make it”!
- Follow Up
As you get to know new people, be thoughtful about whether you may want to continue this conversation or connection. Also consider whether the person you are speaking with seems to be engaged in your conversation, or interested in talking to you. If so, ask for their card, or see if you can connect with them on LinkedIn. Being proactive will make you stand out to professionals and potential employers.
When you network with someone new, asking for a business card or suggesting that you connect on LinkedIn can help you learn more about them and allow you to keep in touch! If you tell someone that you will be connecting on LinkedIn or by email, DO IT! Following through on your word is an important quality in a professional, and will help establish your reputation as a trust worthy and proactive person.
Likewise, if someone you know recommends that you reach out to someone they know, and provides you with their contact information, be sure to get in touch! You don’t want to leave the potential connection hanging, and an introduction like this can be a great way to build a strong network! Don’t pass up a great opportunity to meet someone who comes recommended!
When you follow up, keep Tip #1 in mind and work to build a mutually beneficial relationship! Share opportunities, events or other updates with your contacts as appropriate to establish more meaningful connections!
- Keep in Touch
Think strong personal networks are only for mega-successful and established professionals? Think again.
Consider tapping into the network of people you already know. Family, friends, teachers, professors, supervisors, teammates, neighbors, and those who attend the same churches, clubs or volunteer opportunities as you do are all a part of your network already!
Cultivate these connections by communicating with people about your interests and goals. If you’re doing Pre-Med, reach out to your family doctor and let them know they were an inspiration to you! If you are pursuing a business degree and know that your friend’s mother works at a company you admire, get in touch to learn more about her work there! Perhaps your doctor or friend’s mother would be open to you meeting to talk more about their work, or even shadowing them at their job.
Remember that your personal network is not exclusively career-oriented! If you’re moving to a new city, ask your contacts for the scoop. If you need work done on your car, ask around at your office for recommendations! Get into the habit of asking others for suggestions and ideas, and begin sharing praise about your favorite places or businesses with those in your life.
The best way to create a strong network is to start with the one you’ve already got, and build from there! Keep in touch with the people you already know, and be sure to communicate your interests and goals to your network. You never know what opportunities or contacts those individuals in your network may have to offer-now or in the future.
For more tips on building your network and for further information about how to utilize LinkedIn while networking, check out the Career Development Center’s website:
– Kristi Kehrwald, Graduate Student, Career Development Center