What You Need to Know About Networking and Preparing for an Intense Job Market
What scares you most about networking?
I’ll confess that working receptions in an attempt to hunt down my next paid gig is never something I look forward to with great enthusiasm. Like my guest author, I prefer the one on one approach, but regardless of your networking style, it’s always good to learn some new tips and tricks to make the networking process a little easier.
Pro Tip: The featured image is misleading, because networking is not limited to social scenes, but it’s a fun image, isn’t it?
Last week we learned some tangible strategies from Alyssa about moving to a new city. The article generated excellent feedback, but it was kindly pointed out to me that not everyone is on the ball. In fact, there are people freaking out about not having landed an internship or job for this coming summer.
The beautiful thing about this article is that you don’t have to be a college student to fully appreciate it. Even the most seasoned of job seekers will be able to derive use from its wisdom.
You met Hindley Williams a few weeks ago when she wrote about not settling in relationships. There’s something to be said for not settling in your careers either, right? Here with another round of concrete thoughts on networking is my friend and yours, Hindley!
Networking at the best of times can feel daunting, and at the worst of times, it can make a person feel downright vulnerable. We all want a good job that makes us at least somewhat fulfilled and which can pay our bills, so there is a lot on the line. Whether you are a student wanting to build your network for the future, or you are one of the millions of Americans who find themselves wanting a change of employment scenery, you want to avoid getting lost in the networking ocean by being both original and strategic. Here are some recommendations for you to consider as you begin or continue with your networking journey.
Between tons of career fairs held through colleges both virtually and in person as well as having access to professors who have connections in their fields, collegiate settings are the perfect place to start expanding your network. Plus, many college career centers offer various trainings on resume building, interview skills, and can often even meet with you one-on-one to help you address any particular concerns you may have.
When I was in college, I loved school right down to the copious amounts of reading and analysis papers, but arguably to the exclusion of developing other areas which could have been to my benefit. In short, school was my thing, and it occupied all of my time and energy. In many ways, I would not change that one bit, but I do wish I would have turned my attention at least slightly toward growing my network and beginning to get my feet under me for the career world.
Collegiate career resources are offered for free for your use, and taking advantage of them can be critical to starting out ahead of the game.
It is not as though my collegiate experience was entirely devoid of networking. In fact, I currently hold a job which was offered to me because the director of the organization knew me previously from an internship I held between my sophomore and junior years of college. Every college student finds themselves networking at least to a degree. Even so, there were many opportunities for professional growth that I did not deliberately seek out, and therein lies the part of these university career centers that truly requires self-reliance and a bit of tunnel vision.
Cultivating these skills or attending these job fairs may not seem important when you are a student with a meal plan and a busy assignments schedule, but the smallest bit of attention paid toward these matters can already distinguish you from your peers because you are taking some extra steps. These additional obligations do not have to dramatically fill up your schedule, but the smallest amount of deliberateness can go a long way.
Discover Your Networking Style
Not everyone feels comfortable going to networking events or career cocktail hours. Others dread the idea of writing an introductory email. Are you an extrovert who loves connecting with new people in an unstructured conversation setting? Then meet and greet opportunities may be right for you. Do you feel more comfortable writing emails? Then it may be that connecting with individuals via LinkedIn or email and then scheduling one-on-one informational interviews where you come prepared with questions are better fits.
That does not mean that you should not challenge yourself along the way or step outside of your comfort zone, but knowing your strengths and relying upon them to compliment your networking style will help you build confidence as well as showcase the skills that you would be realistically offering in a career setting. Letting yourself shine and knowing in your gut that you deserve a fulfilling career will help you to take the reigns and develop the style that works best for you, and may even encourage you to try new approaches along the way.
I have never been the type to attend meet and greets. Engaging in conversation after conversation amongst people I have never met has never been a set of circumstances in which I have felt I would be able to shine. However, I have been able to make connections at these types of events when I go with friends or colleagues who are also looking to network. Being alongside another person or two allows me to relax a bit more and it feels easier to make connections with those around me when I know there is someone present with whom I have some familiarity.
Feel free to create your own modifications to aspects of networking that make you uncomfortable. If writing is not your thing, consult with a trusted colleague or mentor on email drafts to give you the extra boost of confidence that your written work makes a good impression.
The Power of the Informational Interview
There is nothing wrong with creating your resume and cover letter and start cold applying to places left and right on career websites, but you will hear from almost everyone that they got this or that job opportunity because of someone they knew. So, how do you get a job if you do not know anyone?
You can harness the power of the informational interview. This method of networking allows you to connect with professionals who are working in positions that you find interesting and who can likely offer you some advice or insight about what it would be like to work in that field. Even if you are confident about a particular field, informational interviews are a great way to make connections and get your name known in that field.
You can choose to come prepared with a list of questions, or you can allow the conversation to flow naturally. Most people find themselves utilizing some combination of the two. The key is to inject a bit of your personality and goals into the conversation while also connecting with someone, learning the tips and tricks about how that individual got to where they are today, and discovering if they have other connections with whom you can converse so as to keep the process moving. And, don’t forget to connect with these individuals on LinkedIn afterward and send them a message thanking them for their time.
I love informational interviews because there is so much value as a young professional in learning about how a person got their current job, their previous jobs, and how they were led down their professional path. These interviews give insight about how careers are built, and the combined luck and strategy that is at play.
As an introvert, informational interviews tend to work very well for me as a networking tool because by nature they are a conversation with only one or two other people, and they have a clearly defined goal: for me to gather as much information as possible. Every informational interview I have conducted has gone quite well, and I always gain at least some pearl of wisdom from the experience. Conversation flows naturally in these settings because individuals love to discuss the things about which they are passionate, and a few well-placed questions from me keep them talking and excited to share. Interview subjects always have referrals, so the possibilities for networking never run dry.
Other Networking Tips
Here are some additional suggestions as you plan out your networking journey:
- Have your introductory documentation Ready!
Regardless of your networking approach, it is wise to go into networking having a LinkedIn profile created and a resume ready to go (either electronic or hard copy depending on the interaction). Having a cover letter template or draft saved on your computer for quick revision is not a bad idea, either.
- Dress for Success!
Even if you are a student, having at least one or two professional outfits on hand that make you feel confident will be a large factor that that first impression as you interact with connections. Stick to neutral colors, and consult the Internet or trusted mentors if you want to ensure you are hitting the mark.
- Keep Trying!
Networking is not easy. If you are networking to find a job, hang in there. Give your mind breaks if necessary, but always be prepared to get back in the ring after a few days at most. If you are just starting out and networking for your future, be patient with yourself. Putting oneself out there is not a natural feeling for anyone, but do not give up!
Do you have any tips to add or have questions? Feel free to drop a comment!