When I first entered college, I was constantly hearing juniors and seniors tell me how important networking is. However, like most freshman, I had no idea what networking was. It’s not something they taught us in high school. So, what is networking, how do you prepare for it, and how do you maintain connections?
What is networking?
Networking is the art of interacting with peers and experts in a professional manner. It is about creating lasting connections that can help you learn and gain industry insights.
Networking can happen anywhere, in any setting. Often times people think of networking as attending organized events all suited up, but that’s not the case. Every interaction you have is working to widen your network. The person you strike up a conversation with at a coffee shop may help you with career advice or be able to put in a word at a company where you’ve applied.
Create your Elevator Pitch
The first question people often ask you is to tell a little bit about yourself. This is a question you should be prepared to answer with what is called your ‘Elevator Pitch’. An Elevator Pitch is essentially a 30 second introduction of yourself and your experiences. The idea is that if you met someone you’d like to connect with on an elevator, by the time the person got off, they’d know you.
The tricky part comes in deciding what to include in your Elevator Pitch. You probably did a lot in high school like extracurriculars, community service, and part-time jobs. If you are beyond a first year in college, you likely have even more accomplishments you would like to include. Therefore, it can be a bit of a challenge to speak about yourself in a concise manner. So how do you decide what should be included in an Elevator Pitch and what shouldn’t?
Think about your end goal: making memorable connections. You should always try to grab attention and facilitate a longer conversation. You are essentially marketing yourself. So, think like a marketer --Elevator Pitches are simply self-advertisements.
You should give an overview of past accomplishments, present involvements, and future goals. You can start off with your major and extracurriculars, then move into relevant job experiences, then finally career aspirations. After you frame your pitch, rehearse it until you become comfortable saying it.
Formal vs Informal Networking Situations
Sometimes organizations will sponsor networking events where students can interact with employers. If you plan to attend a formal networking event, research the people you’d like to connect with ahead of time. A good place to research is LinkedIn. Tailor questions to that individual. People love talking about themselves - the more specific the questions are, the better.
Always be sure to assess the nature of the event. Understand the tone so you can frame your conversations. If you are in a formal setting, it is encouraged to have copies of your resume to distribute. However, if you are in an informal setting, like a coffee shop, passing along your resume may be strange. But you could perhaps create a business card to use in that situation. Always be sure to read the environment you are in.
After a conversation, ask the person if they are comfortable sharing their email address and connecting via LinkedIn. Most professionals are happy to connect, but it is nice to show courtesy and mention your intent to maintain the connection.
If you met the person at a formal networking event, always send thank you notes within 24 hours. This signifies that you respected their time. Sending out thank you letters always works in your favor. Not everyone sends them out, so a customized thank you letter will make you stand out.
You may run into your connections again. Take the opportunity to reconnect. Remind them when you last interacted and something memorable from the conversation. The familiarity can lead into more specific and beneficial conversations.
Long Run Goals
Networking is all about the give and take. Once you established yourself and created a strong network, be open to helping others forge their own impact. You can practice giving by inviting professionals on a panel to host events. There are endless possibilities on how you can give back by sharing your experience to your peers and juniors.
Networking is like professional speed dating: some will succeed, and some will fail. But the most important thing is to have fun. Enjoy speaking to people. You may not see it coming now, but interactions will open doors for you. You will be grateful for having made those connections in the past.
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