Networking and You
Networking and You
You've no doubt heard of "networking," but do you know what it really is and how it can help you?
Quite simply, networking is the process of gathering helpful information from a network of contacts to assist you in planning your career and in looking for jobs. Contrary to what you may have heard, it doesn't require that you know scores of people or that these people are incredibly important. Anyone can network successfully! All it takes is preparation, a modest investment of your time and enthusiasm.
Focus Your Choice of Major or Career Direction
When you speak to people working in jobs and careers of interest to you, you get the inside story on what it takes to be successful, what the future holds for an occupation, the positives and negatives of a career field, and whether your unique combination of skills, interests and values is a good match.
Get Advice About Your Job Search
How do you conduct a long-distance job search? How do employers advertise their openings in your field? Is there a preferred resume format? Should you contact companies by letter, phone or email? Speaking to people who work in the field that interests you can clue you in on what works and what doesn't work. Importantly, too, if your field is very competitive and hard to break in to, networking with professionals can provide you with leads on jobs that will never be advertised.
Validate Your Choice of Career
By learning first-hand what it's like to work, for instance, as a physician, a teacher or an accountant, you can confirm whether your chosen major or career is right for you, before you make a serious mistake. As a career counselor, this author has witnessed too many instances in which college graduates decide after investing their education and one or more years of experience in their chosen field that it is not satisfying to them.
Refine Your Interviewing Skills
Networking gives you the opportunity to speak about your career interests and goals with a variety of professionals, and this is exactly the kind of experience that will help you to become skilled in your job interviews. Not only do you become comfortable engaging in conversations with these contacts, you can also improve your interview questions and answers because you have better insights.
Uncover Information About a Specific Employer or Job
Many students limit their research on an employer to reviewing the company's website or reading the printed literature in their school's career library. Unfortunately, this does not always provide a complete picture of the opportunity, such as learning the organization's culture or expectations of the management. Networking with current employees or others who are familiar with the organization, however, provides a comprehensive picture of the job.
Myths and Truths
Myth: Networking is only for well-connected people
Truth: As a student, you may feel that your list of contacts is too small to be of any use to you, but you'd be surprised by how many people you know once you begin developing your contact list. And don't dismay if none of your family members are CEO's. Surprisingly, it's likely that your strongest contacts will be those you don't know well. This phenomenon is called "the strength of weak ties" and it has been studied by numerous sociologists. In their studies, they found that acquaintances are more likely than family or friends to give people direct information or to recommend them for opportunities.
Myth: Networking is only for extroverts
Truth: It's natural to feel somewhat shy about approaching others for advice, and you may want to begin your initial efforts with people that you know well. You may also want to find a networking style that's comfortable for you, such as writing instead of calling to schedule meetings, and asking a close contact to ease the introduction to a stranger by calling in advance to tell them of your interest.
Myth: Networking is just bothering people who are unwilling to help you
Truth: Most of us love to talk about our jobs and what we do, and we're flattered when someone asks for our advice. In fact, letting other people do a favor for you creates greater loyalty than your doing a favor for them. Further, asking them for their help can invest them in you and your future success.
Myth: Networking is just asking for a job
Truth: The purpose of networking is to gather information to assist you in planning your career and in looking for a job. It's not asking someone for a job. When you ask someone for a job, there are only two possible responses: "Yes, I have a job opening," or, more likely, "No, I don't have a job opening right now." This ends your conversation with someone who could have potentially provided you with valuable information.
Develop a List of Potential Contacts
The first step in starting your networking efforts is to develop a list of potential contacts. According to Hansen in her book, A Foot in the Door, the following are the very best contacts for college students.
Although you may consider your classmates to be possible competitors as you look for jobs, they can be wonderful sources of information. Like you, they're also deciding what career directions or employers are right for them and they may have uncovered some great resources that you haven't come across.
Alumni (especially recent graduates)
Ask what alumni who graduated in your major are doing and track those down that work in areas that are of interest to you. You can find this information from your university's career services office, alumni office or from professors in your department. A terrific way to network with alumni is to speak to them at career fairs and other campus events.
Parents and Other Family
It's been estimated by networking experts that the average person has up to 250 contacts, and your parents, as well as other family members, have many years of accumulated experience of which you'd be foolish not to take advantage. Naturally, too, they have a vested interest in your career success and will be very supportive of your request for contacts.
Parents of Classmates
No doubt you've had the opportunity to meet the parents of some of your friends. They, like your parents, will be pleased to help you and they are good sources of information.
Professors and Advisors
Many professors and other advisors take a personal interest in their students and stay in touch with them after graduation. In addition, faculty have years of connections forged through their research and affiliation with professional societies.
Current and Former Employers
Your current and former employers will know other employers in their field and will have many professional contacts that they can share with you. Further, as your employer, they can be a very powerful referral source for you because they are familiar with your work and with your potential.
Guest Speakers and Career Fair Representatives
People who serve as guest speakers and career fair representatives are enthusiastic about working with college students and, in fact, they often volunteer for these assignments. Attending career fairs and going to hear guest speakers give you unparalleled networking opportunities. The purpose of these events is to provide you with career information, and, moreover, many of these representatives are alumni of your university.
Members of Professional Associations
Some students will join the American Marketing Association or the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineering because it looks good on their resume. Wrong! The real reason why you should join is that you meet other students with interests similar to yours who can clue you in on hiring trends and career options. Importantly, too, many professional associations host guest speakers who speak about their organizations and their career opportunities.
Members of Clubs or Other Organizations to Which You Belong
Do not underestimate the value of other organizations that you belong to, even if these are unrelated to your major or career field. Through playing rugby or belonging to a Greek organization, for instance, you form close relationships that may potentially help you to connect with sources of career and job information.
Any advice on networking in today's wired world would certainly be incomplete without a discussion of Internet resources. Many professional and industry associations, such as the Public Relations Society of America or the Semiconductor Industry Association, host newsgroups and mailing lists that professionals use to discuss recent trends in their fields, ask questions of each other and network. In addition, there are also forums available on several commercial sites, such as Monster.com and WetFeet.com. For information on how you can find these sites and protocol or "netiquette" to follow, use the Riley Guide.
Other Targeted Contacts
Other targeted contacts, such as high school teachers, the family doctor, your clergyman, etc. can be great providers of contacts. For example, your family pharmacist may be able to help you contact pharmaceutical sales representatives. Your clergyman may have several bankers in his congregation.
Determine Your Purpose for Contacting Your Network
Determining your purpose for contacting your network depends on the stage at which you are in planning your career. In other words, what are you hoping to gain by meeting with your networking contacts? For example, if you're in the early stage of career planning and you are exploring majors or career directions, then your purpose is to gather information about jobs and careers of interest to you. This will include information about:
- Job duties
- Educational preparation
- Future growth in the field
- Recommended work experience
If you're in the later stage of career planning and you're conducting a job search for either full-time or co-op/internship positions, then your purpose is to obtain advice on how to conduct your job search and to get job leads. This will include specific information about:
- Employers in your field
- Descriptions of various work environments
- Hiring strategies
- Preferred qualifications
- Referrals to employers who have openings
Of course, too, these purposes are not exclusive and you may be seeking both information and advice on your job search from your networking contacts, especially if you're looking for your first experience in the field as a co-op/intern.
Review What You Have to Offer and What You Are Seeking
Knowing yourself better will enable you to talk easily with greater confidence to your networking contacts, and it will help you to make a match with careers and employers that are right for you. To facilitate this self-assessment, consider your skills, interests and values. Take a few minutes to reflect on the questions below.
What are your greatest accomplishments?
Of what are you most proud? What are the skills or experiences that enabled you to achieve these accomplishments? List your 'top ten' accomplishments and then describe these in enough detail so you begin to see common threads of interest and skills. For instance, perhaps you were selected to serve as an ambassador for your high school or university and you also volunteered to be the programs' chair for the Finance Club. Both of these accomplishments require excellent interpersonal skills, a flair for organization and good public speaking ability.
What interests you professionally and personally?
What courses, work experiences or activities do you enjoy? Conversely, what do you dislike doing? If you find it hard to answer these questions, consider taking a career interest test. Your career development office will be able to provide you with information about taking an interest test.
What's important to you?
Is it helping others? Is it working in a creative environment? Are positions of influence and authority attractive to you? Do you want to work independently, or as part of a close-knit team? Consult with your university's career development office if you're interested in learning more about work-related values and the steps you can take to assess yours.
Practice Introducing Yourself
Practice the introduction of yourself that you'll use in meeting your networking contacts. Depending on the situation, you may want to use the sound bite, an idea by Brian Krueger in his book, the College Grad Hunter, or a introduction called the 30-second commercial.
The sound bite consists of an introduction of yourself by name and university, what your major is and what the purpose of your networking is. For example, "Hi, my name is Ashley Keith. I'm a psychology major at Good Ol' University and I'm interested in learning more about the human resources field."
A 30-second commercial for Ashley Keith could go something like this:
"I became interested in the human resources field last summer when I interned at The Greater Houston YMCA and I got to know the human resources director there. I'd always planned on following the traditional route to graduate school but her job really fascinated me. I liked the variety of her job and the fact that she was a very positive influence in the YMCA. When I returned to school this fall, I decided to add a business class and I also joined the Society for Human Resources Management. I've enjoyed my business class and it's a good complement to my psychology classes. Next semester I'll begin taking courses as a management major and I hope to obtain an internship in human resources next summer."
Putting Your Network into Practice
Now that you have developed your list of networking contacts, decided on your networking purpose, reflected on your interests and skills and condensed these into a sound bite and commercial, it's time to put all your preparation into practice by initiating contact with your network. All of the following methods can be effective strategies, so remember to use a style that is comfortable for you.
According to Hansen, networking in person usually happens in the early, as well as the later stages of the networking process. In the early stage, you talk to people who are family members, friends, professors or other close contacts. When these initial contacts lead to later meetings with the people whom your first contacts referred you to, the second stage of person-to-person networking occurs. Make sure to have your sound bite and commercial introductions ready, and always prepare a list of questions to ask your networking contact.
When you've been referred to someone you don't know or you're contacting someone without the benefit of an acquaintance's referral (usually called a "cold call"), then a well-written letter is a good idea. In writing your letters, follow these guidelines.
State why you're writing and identify yourself. Always lead with the name of the person that referred you to the contact, if you have one. For example, "Mark Davis suggested that I write to you about my interest in working for a Big Five management consulting firm. Currently, I'm a sophomore business major at Ivory Tower College and I'm seeking information about careers in consulting."
Provide information about your background and your career interests, however tentative. For example, what work experience have you had and what are your goals? Remember, too, that the purpose of networking is to gather information, not to ask for a job, so make sure to state that you are in the process of gathering information about career possibilities. Also ask about the possibility of arranging a meeting at the networking contact's convenience. In addition to a face-to-face meeting, you may want to suggest the possibility of a conversation by phone or by email.
Thank your networking contact for their time and consideration of your request. Don't ask them to call you. Instead, offer to call them after they've had an opportunity to review your letter, usually in one to two weeks, to schedule a convenient time for a conversation.
An alternative to writing your networking contacts is to call them. As with the letter, always clearly identify yourself, the reason why you're calling and give the name of your referral, if you have one. Have your sound bite ready, suggest a follow-up conversation by phone, face-to-face or by email, and close by thanking them for their time. Interestingly, too, this author recommends that you stand, rather than sit, when you make these initial calls. This helps you to be more alert and come across with greater confidence as you are, quite literally, "thinking on your feet." And, be enthusiastic!Help to keep the conversation lively and tell them you're very interested in their advice or information.
Communicating by email is the easiest way to contact busy professionals, and it averts the waste of time caused by "phone tag." It's also a good strategy if you know your networking contacts and you know that their organization's culture is email friendly. Just because emailing is easier than "snail mailing," don't be misled and send a message that's overly casual. Follow the same guidelines outlined above for written letters.
In researching yourself, know your purpose for contacting your network, as discussed previously, and take stock of what you have to offer and what your goals are, however tentative. Again, review your skills, interests and values so you can convey this self-knowledge to your networking contacts and determine what career and jobs are the best fit for you. You should also do some research on the career fields of your networking contacts, as well as their organizations. This research accomplishes a number of purposes as you're able to ask well-informed questions, you don't waste their time by asking obvious questions that your research would've answered, and you're able to more effectively respond to any questions they may ask. There are many excellent resources you can use to do this research and the staff of your university's career development office can suggest hard copy, Internet and alumni resources.
It's also a good idea to bring a few copies of your resume to your information interview.
This allows you to provide your networking contacts with further information about your background and to reinforce the points you made in your sound bite or commercial. Sending a copy of your resume is also a wonderful way for them to refer you to other contacts. Further, if your information interview is going well and you've established a good rapport with your contact, then you may wish to ask them to critique your resume at the end of the interview.
What to Wear
Another key component of your preparation for the information interview is your appearance, and nothing more directly affects your appearance than how you are dressed. It's been said that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression," so always dress on the conservative side. When in doubt, a business suit for both men and women is recommended. Dress codes can vary greatly, however, from one industry to another, so do your homework to research trends regarding appropriate attire. By all means, your clothes should be clean and presentable. This author will never forget the time when one of my contacts reported that a student I had referred to her arrived for the information interview in shorts, with a girlfriend in tow, no less!
Closing the Information Interview
Be considerate of your contact by being careful not to go over your allotted time without encouragement. You may say something like, "Well, it looks like I have time for one last question." Your interviewer can then either end your interview with the question or invite you to ask additional questions. One of the last questions you should always be prepared to ask is to request the names of additional people you can add to your network of contacts. This is especially important if your goal is to obtain more job leads and contacts in the field. Also, ask for a business card and inquire whether your contact would mind if you stayed in contact with them. Finally, thank the interviewer for his time and always follow up with a thank-you letter, either by mail or by email.
Keeping it all Together
Your networking efforts can quickly get out of control if you don't maintain a record of your contacts, the information that you gained and the follow-up activities recommended by your contacts. Keeping a notebook or a log of your activities will keep you organized and on track. Following is a suggested format by Meg Heenehan from her book, Networking. Better yet, you can enter this information in a database or spreadsheet to have it at your fingertips for quick retrieval and follow-up.
Sample Networking Log
- Contact Name:
- Company or Organization:
- Referral Source:
- Date of Meeting/Contact:
- Key Points:
- Positive/Negative Impressions (note if the information helped you to clarify your career objectives)
- Suggestion(s) from Networking Contact:
- Thank-You Letter Sent: Y/N
- Suggested Contact(s):
Make Sure Your Network Has Staying Power
All of your best preparation for your meetings and discussions with your networking contacts can be undone if you fail to thank those who helped you. Don't limit your thank-you letters only to those contacts with whom you met with face-to-face. Instead, acknowledge the assistance of everyone in your network, not only those in a position to hire you, but anyone who provided you, according to Hansen, with the "minutest amount of assistance."
Why is this important? It's important for two reasons:
- First, your courtesy and consideration will reinforce the positive impression you made during your encounter with them.
- Second, following up with your contacts presents you as an organized person who pays attention to details.
For these reasons, they'll be more inclined to recommend you for jobs. Further, don't just send a single thank-you letter, but stay in touch with your network of contacts to keep them informed of your activities and make a special point to let them know the results of the advice they gave you. Doing this will help them to think of you when they learn of an opportunity that would be perfect for you.
Guidelines for Writing a Thank You Letter to Your Contact
Begin your thank-you letters by thanking your networking contacts for their assistance, whether this consisted of meeting with you for an information interview, providing you with other contacts or informing you of job leads. "I appreciate the time you gave to speak with me," "Thank you for your assistance in my search for information about opportunities in public relations," or "It was a delight to meet you" are good lead-ins. Also, you may want to summarize how their advice helped you. For example, "I now have a good base of knowledge about the career of social worker," or "I was able to learn of job openings that are a good fit for my skills and interests."
In this paragraph, refer to specific advice or information that your contact provided to you. Statements such as "Your suggestions about how I can obtain a job in biotechnology have helped me to refine my resume and to focus my job search," or "The information you shared with me about possibilities in engineering helped me to choose electrical engineering as my major" are exceptionally strong. This serves to make your thank-you letter special by personalizing it. Also, note why you believe you'd be a strong applicant for positions in this career, if your networking purpose is to obtain a job. Additionally, in this paragraph you can inform them of your next steps in your career or job search. For example, "I plan to meet representatives of non-profit agencies at the upcoming career fair."
Again thank your contacts for their time and assistance in your final paragraph. It's also a nice touch to offer to keep them posted regarding your progress. This accomplishes two important networking objectives:
- It makes them feel good about the time they spent with you because you seem to value the relationship.
- It keeps them in your network so you can call on them for future advice and information.
By now, you hopefully understand that networking isn't an intimidating skill, mastered only by a few people who have full-blown networks already in place. Instead, it's an organized process that can easily be learned and perfected. With a bit of research and planning, you can begin to develop a network of priceless contacts that can serve you well now and throughout your career. So get going and help yourself to a bright future!
- What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. Ten Speed Press, 2000.
- Power Networking by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas. MountainHarbour Publications, 1999.
- A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market by Katharine Hansen. Ten Speed Press, 2000.
- Networking by Meg Heenehan. Random House, 1997.
- Networking & Your Job Search by Margaret Riley Dikel. 2000. Riley Guide.
The Office of Career Development and Academic Advising would like to thank Leigh Turner, Ph.D., for help in creating this page.