Mar 27

End the Networking Nightmares

 “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

 “Your network is your net worth.”

“You’re either networking, or you’re not working.”

The half of you reading this who consider yourself extroverts may think networking is no big deal – but I’ll bet you could use some tips on how to network more effectively.

The other half of you – the introverts – are probably feeling tempted to close this window and start researching jobs that allow you to work from home. I get it. Striking up a conversation with a total stranger can feel like a nightmare – but it’s a skill you’ll need in any industry, and it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as you think!

Let’s start with a clear understanding of the purpose of networking.

For starters, networking is NOT:

  • An exchange of favors
  • Collecting business cards
  • Self-promotion
  • Only done with higher-ups
  • An act

Networking is one thing, plain and simple: Building relationships.

How do you prepare to network?

  • Do your homework: Before you network, study up. LinkedIn is a powerful tool to research the other individuals whom you are going to meet, and they even having learning modules to help you build confidence before you walk into the room.
  • Prepare your “elevator pitch”: This term is in quotes because the traditional elevator pitch (a scripted 30-second statement about how great you are) can come off as overly salesy. Remember, networking is not a time for self-promotion or acting. Come prepared with a handful of talking points that represent your abilities and experiences and keep them in your back pocket. Start conversations by asking the other person a question about themselves (people LOVE to talk about what they do), and when you see an opening, work in some of your talking points. This should feel like a conversation rather than a Q&A, and it should be more about them than you.
  • Listen to understand, not to respond: When the other person is talking, it’s tempting to think about the next thing you want to say and how you want to say it. Try your best to avoid this; you could miss out on some crucial pieces of information and your predetermined response may sound inauthentic. Use active listening skills and aim be a learn-it-all instead of a know-it-all.
  • Come out of your shell: Every time I walk into a networking session at a conference, the first thing I do is find the food. Why? Because I know grabbing a plate will buy me some time before I have to talk to someone. Networking isn’t easy for most people, and it can feel extremely awkward to insert yourself into a conversation. But, once you get that first conversation under your belt, you’ll get that rewarding feeling that comes with meeting someone. My tip: Join a group that has an odd number of people and just smile and listen for a bit. One person is likely being left out (we’ve all been the third wheel at some point) and you can engage in conversation with them.
  • Set the stage for the future: Most networking conversations are less than 5 minutes, so when social cues indicate that it’s coming to an end, politely wrap things up. This can be difficult because you don’t want to seem rude, but trust me, the other person typically wants to move on, too. So, here’s my personal favorite conversation-ender: “It’s been a pleasure talking with you, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Do you mind if I connect with you on LinkedIn so we can keep in touch?” You can also exchange business cards before shaking hands and parting ways.

Where should I network?

Most people think networking is done at big events like career fairs and conferences. While these are great places to find like-minded people in your desired industry, take some time to recognize your daily network. Who are the “regulars” who visit your place of work? Who lives in your residence hall? What faculty/staff members do you cross paths with? Who sits near you in class? You see these people all the time, so get to know them! Sometimes the best connections can come from the smallest interactions.

If you’re an introvert, you’re likely more comfortable talking to people one-on-one. Use that to your advantage! By meeting someone for coffee or a one-on-one meeting, even for a quick 15 minutes, you’ll be able to talk in an environment conducive to great conversation.

Do I really have to?

The truth is that all the clichés listed at the beginning of this article aren’t wrong. Networking can absolutely help you find not just “a” job, but a great job. Upwards of 85% of positions never make it to a job board because they were filled through a professional network. With that said, however, your goal should never be to get an interview or job by the end of a networking conversation. Instead, your goal should be to put yourself in a position to continue the conversation in the future.

Now get out there and start networking!

By Tyler Wiersma
Assistant Director, Undergraduate Professional Development