“Networking.” We hear this phrase over and over, yet very few of us actually understand what it means or how to put it into effect. If we do understand what it means, we “network” enough to get us the job or the internship or the position we want, and then we forget about it afterwards.
Today, I want to talk about all things networking, the first post in a segment of career-related posts that will be coming up on my blog. The reason I started this segment is because I’ve been a mentor to others for the past few years, and helping people with career goals or advice is something I’m extremely passionate about. It’s not easy to be in college, barely getting through the day when you have challenging classes and exams, and also having the added stress of finding a job or an internship.
When you’re in that situation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and incapable of reaching your goals. You may look around at your peers and wonder, “How are they doing this? How are their lives so together?” But the truth is, NO ONE’S life is “together”. Everyone’s hustling, everyone’s struggling. Everyone has goals they want to achieve, and everyone feels nervous at some point about achieving those goals. In my opinion, that nervousness and fear is healthy. It shows that you actually care about your ambitions and desires, and you have the drive to reach the top of the mountain. That mountaintop will keep changing. Your goals will keep changing. As soon as you reach that peak, you will see another peak in the distance, just waiting to be climbed. My point here is – you’re going to have goals, but there are ways to combat the stress and nervousness that comes along with actually achieving those goals.
When I was in college, I changed my major three times. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and then I thought I wanted to be a journalist, and then I thought I wanted to be a software engineer. I was wrong on all counts, but I still ended up in a place where I can say I feel happy about my skills and everything I’ve learned. I eventually decided that business school was the right step for me, where I could learn strategy and technology at the same time. Being in business school, the word “networking” was thrown at us probably 57 times a day – but I’m glad it was. The point of networking is not to land a job and have that relationship end after you get an offer, but to build a lasting relationship that can mutually benefit both you and the other person. It’s always going to be a two-way street.
Keep reading to find out the steps you should take to ensure that you create and maintain lasting relationships:
GO TO EVENTS
What are you passionate about? Is it business? Technology? Art? Fashion? Find events through your school or your community and go. Don’t worry about who you know or don’t know, but just go and meet people. Make connections, make friends. Make it a rule to talk to three people you’ve never met before. You never know who could be your lifesaver in 15 years (or vice versa).
MEMORIZE WHO YOU ARE
If I’m at a career fair representing a company and someone comes up to me and knows exactly what they want out of a job, what their skills are, and what they could bring to a table, that’s when I’d know they’re the right fit for a job. That’s exactly what I did in the past – whenever there were events, career fairs, or casual dinners, I made sure I knew my story. Many people call this your “elevator pitch,” or what you would say to someone if you were on an elevator with them and had to summarize your skills and experience in 30 seconds or less. That’s a good way to think about it, but before you start to form it, really think about who you are and your skills. Write them down, and write down how they could impact your future dream job. Write down your goals for your dream position. Then, make that your elevator pitch. Edit it over and over until you think it’s perfect, and you have your story. Memorize it. Use it everywhere you go, and cater it to the person you’re talking to. Before you know it, you’ll learn to tell your story as if it was made up on the spot.
LEARN TO HAVE A CONVERSATION THAT DOESN’T HAVE TO DO WITH WHY YOU ARE THERE
Having your story down is one step of the process, but that’s only the beginning. You have to know how to keep the conversation going BEYOND just talking about the job or the work involved. Pro tip: Write down conversation topics on the notes section of your phone. Write down questions to ask to DRIVE those conversations. Eventually, the discussion will just flow and the ideal situation would be that you won’t even need to use all your questions. This shows the person you’re talking to that you’re more than just a walking-talking resume – you’re a person who has real depth and can hold a conversation. This will carry weight when it comes to actually getting the job, I promise. I’ve seen people with amazing resumes get rejected because they couldn’t hold an actual conversation – and the world runs through communication, so always keep that in mind.
KEEP A LOG OF WHO YOU TALK TO AND THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION
This is a life hack. We all know and love LinkedIn, but you should always have a private document that lists people you know and trust to be your contacts. These can be people you talked to at events and have business cards from, coworkers from an old job, and even professors. My professors had always given me such incredible advice on finding a job and building relationships, that I’ve still kept in touch with them two years after graduating. They’re experts for a reason, so keep them in mind too. I usually keep an Excel file with names, numbers (if given), and emails of people I consider valuable connections.
FOLLOW UP (THIS ONE’S IMPORTANT)
So you’ve gone to the events, you’ve talked until your jaw hurts, and now what? You maintain those relationships. Key rule: Maintain networking relationships as if they were friendships. Look through your log and reach out to those people every month or every other month and ask them questions. I’ve kept relationships with recruiters for over a year even when I didn’t get a job, just to get that job a year later because they had seen me at all the company events + I always made sure to talk to them + I always followed up + I showed them how much I cared about their company. It’s all about the substance of the actual relationship!
RINSE & REPEAT
I promise, it gets easier. I remember when I went to my first career fair and I had NO idea what I was doing. I just knew I was supposed to be there and that’s what everyone in the business school was doing. I made sure to talk to people from companies I actually cared about and cultivated those connections. I kept an eye out for important events and met people who had those same goals and interests. I did the same thing month after month, and I finally felt like I understood networking. It doesn’t entail JUST meeting people from companies you want to work at – it also means meeting your peers who are there for the same reason. You may need their help 20 years down the line, and vice versa. Do this until you’re a pro, and then keep doing it.
The bottom line here is that networking will NEVER stop being a valuable asset to you. I’m only two years into the corporate world but I feel this in my bones – your world is truly built off the connections you make and the people you choose to surround yourself with, friends included.
I know this was a lot of advice jammed into one post, but career advice and mentorship is something I really love doing. If you’re struggling and need some help or some guidance, feel free to reach out to me. I don’t claim to have it all figured out and I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve been in a place where I felt like I wouldn’t ever reach my goals. Despite being in that place, I kept getting back up and making sure I reached them – and I emerged stronger every time.
Look out for more blog posts in my Career Tips segment! My next one will be on how to conquer interviews like a pro 😉