Creating a solid network is one of the most important things you can do to develop your career. Networking is the process of creating and maintaining relationships. It is through networking that many interviews and job offers are earned. However, the idea of networking can make some people feel outside of their comfort zone. Here are some tips to help your experience go smoother.
Be Patient and Make Time
Meaningful relationships don't develop overnight. They take time. Be patient as you meet new individuals and make connections. Focus on building the relationship rather than just showing your resume.
Give Yourself a Goal
Try to get the most out of networking, by establishing at least one goal you want to achieve by the end of the event. Setting a goal for yourself can help move the focus away from the scariness of attending a networking event, towards what you want to accomplish. Some examples of goals include exchanging contact information with at least one person or having a conversation with at least one person you didn't know prior to the event.
Prior to attending a networking event, think about how you can start a conversation, so it's easy to connect with other attendees. Create your brief introduction/elevator speech and be ready to describe yourself professionally and what you do. If available, review the attendee list. Make a list of the people you'd really like to meet, review their LinkedIn profile and learn about what they do and the company they work for. It will make it easier to transition from a quick introduction to a engaging discussion where you are able to make the conversation about the person you're talking to, rather than all about yourself. Having an engaging conversation is an art. Practice with someone you know like a friend or schedule an appointment with the Career Services Center. Doing this will help you feel more comfortable and can lead to longer conversations.
Get Involved on Campus
Getting involved on campus is one of the easiest ways to create new relationships. When you join a student club or program, you have the opportunity to expand your network with fellow classmates, professors, staff, and alumni who share a similar interest. Often times, students clubs and programs also invite professionals from different industries to speak at their events. Once you have been a member for some time, you can see if there are any executive board opportunities for you to fill. This is a great way to develop and build your leadership skills.
Bring a Friend
It can be intimidating to go up to strangers and begin a conversation. Networking doesn't have to be so scary. Sometimes attending events is so much easier when you know someone in the crowd. Ask a classmate, friend, or co-worker who is comfortable networking to join you at an event. It might make things less nerve-racking. However, don't rely on your friend and close off any conversations with other people. Allow people to enter your circle, so people can enter your conversation comfortably. We even recommend separating from your friend during parts of the event and branching out to meet other attendees.
Attend as Many Events as Your Schedule Permits
Getting involved doesn't only have to mean getting involved on campus in a student club or program. Students have the opportunity to attend a variety of guest speaker events on campus where you can meet professionals in different careers as well as local community members. You can also put yourself out there by attending off-campus events like a lecture series, conference or volunteer event. Attend an event that shares similar interests to you or one where you have positive attitude about attending. Having a positive attitude (genuine smile) makes you more approachable and can even help drive conversations.
Take Things Online
We live in a digital time. Take your networking to the world wide web. Establish social media accounts where you are able to interact with people in your field, build an active presence, and keep connections. You can also keep connected and up-to-date on current events, blog posts and even career posting. However, remember that the internet is forever, so be aware that what you do and say in the cyberspace can follow you throughout your career. There are many people who have lost their jobs because of what they have posted or what others have posted about them. Contact the Career Services Center if you need help developing professional social media accounts such as Linkedin.
Join a Professional, Industry or Business Association
One of the most basic functions of a professional association is to help its members meet other people in their field. Consider joining or becoming more active in a professional organization. There are professional associations for nearly every industry and career field and they offer a range of benefits and services to its members including hosting networking events, conferences, and workshops as well as posting job search leads.
Conduct an Informational Interview
A great way to gain information about an occupation or industry and to build your network is to talk to people who are currently working in the field. Identity people that hold a job title that interests you or work at a company or in an industry that speaks to you and ask if they are open to you conducting an informational interview. However, remember the purpose of an informational interview is to learn information, not to get a job. Informational interviews give you a chance to ask questions about a person's role, the company they work at, and the industry in general. It is a great way to test the waters before you jump in with both feet.
Follow Up and Maintain Relationships
At networking events, don't forget to collect business cards or exchange contact information. Sometimes it is helpful to write notes about the individual you met directly on their card to help you remember your conversations and the day you met (Just don't do it in front of them). Following the event, send them an email that day or the next day. Make sure your email is personalized. Stay in touch as it can help open doors to more opportunities and can even land you an internship or job.