Back when you were in high school, networking was simple. You sat down with someone who worked with your mother or father, or with a member of the clergy at your house of worship, with a local business leader – or maybe with someone who had attended a college that interested you. You asked general questions about your future, your education and your career.
There was value in that kind of networking at the time. But now that you are a college student, a graduate student or a college grad, the stakes are higher. You aren’t just collecting general information. You are at the stage of life when you are making specific plans. That means taking the process of networking to a higher level.
Here are five ways to get the most from networking now that you are “playing for the pros.”
Reach out to people in the professions where you would like to work
They should work in the companies or industry that you are targeting, not people who are just important or influential in a general sense. The goal of meeting with them is to ask specific questions, not collect general information. Some examples might include:
- “Do only communications majors get hired by companies like yours to work in PR, or do you sometimes hire English majors like me?”
- “I never took any courses in electrical engineering in college. Do I need to add those before I apply for jobs in companies X, Y or Z?”
- “Which companies in our area are most involved in doing good in the community and helping people?”
Tap individuals who come from communities where you belong, not “anyone who will speak to you”
There are many reasons to do this. First of all, they will be more likely to meet with you. Second, they will have more interest in helping you succeed. Some of these communities might include:
- Graduates of your college or university.
- Members of Golden Key or other honor societies to which you belong.
- Members of professional fraternities or other professional organizations.
Stress that you are asking for an informational interview, not a job interview
The most effective networking happens when you ask for information, not for a job, for several reasons:
- If you ask for a job, your networking contacts will either refer you to the employment office at their companies or turn down your request to meet. (“We are not hiring jobs right now.”)
- When you ask for information, most people will be happy to meet with you. If they know of jobs that are right for you, they will refer you to them. In contrast, asking for a job interview is a “hit or miss” strategy that has little chance of getting results.
Effective networking means staying in touch with people, not just meeting once
On the day you meet with someone, he or she might not know of any jobs or other opportunities that are right for you. In a week or two, that could change! That is why it is so important to take the following steps to keep your networking contacts active:
- Send a written thank-you note after your first conversation. Not an email . . . not a tweet . . . a good old-fashioned handwritten thank-you note! It will get your networking relationship off to a strong start.
- Share news about what you are up to. When you get an internship or win an award, let your networking contacts know.
- Send links to articles and other information that your networking contacts will read and appreciate. It is a quick and effective mind to “stay on their radar.”
- If you get a new job, let them know. It’s another way to demonstrate that you see your networking contacts as resources who are part of your success team.
Effective networking works best when you meet people face-to-face, not only connect online
Online forums like LinkedIn can certainly help you network. But the most productive networking happens when people invest the time and effort to meet people face-to-face. Some reasons include:
- When you actually meet your contact, you become vastly more memorable.
- Your contact will notice strengths and abilities in you that simply cannot be communicated online.
- Genuine in-person relationships are far more easy to maintain and strengthen than online relationship can ever be.
So go out there and start connecting! Do you have any tips for networking you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments!