Networking can be a helpful way to get to know people in your field, meet peers with shared interests, and even find internship opportunities. But it can also be a nerve-wracking and completely new experience for a lot of students.
In last week’s post, Nick talked about the importance of networking and gave us some suggestions for doing so effectively. We thought we’d take up the topic this week and follow up with some tips of our own!
So what is networking? As Nick put it, networking is basically meeting people who work in fields you’re interested in and building relationships with them. One of the things Nick struggled with was building his own network from scratch. Networking can seem overwhelming for a lot of first-gen students who are coming into college with zero professional connections (and even people who have been networking for years can feel nervous going into a room full of strangers!) so if you're a little confused, not to worry. Here are a few things you can do to create smooth and productive networking interactions:
Practice, practice, practice!
Go to the event. Whether it’s a dinner hosted by your major department, an information session that your high school is hosting with a representative from a college you’re interested in, or a career fair, just GO. The only way to get better at establishing genuine connections and having good conversation is to practice often.
It may be awkward to go out and meet strangers and start up a conversation—at first. But the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. It’s better to start developing this skill early on (high schoolers, it’s not too early!) than to wait until you’re trying to find a job your senior year of college. It’ll take a lot of the stress off job interviews if you’re already comfortable pitching yourself and having conversations about your interests and skillset.
In today’s go, go, go world, everything happens fast. We click and the Amazon order is on the way. We send a Snap and our friends respond within seconds. We often forget the importance of the pause. When talking to people, we’re afraid of silence—even briefly. This leads us to quickly interject something, anything at all, just to ease the awkwardness. But a two or three second pause isn’t necessarily painful; in fact, it might be useful.
When talking to someone, don’t just pepper them with questions. When they finish (or you think they finish) a thought, pause. They might not actually be done and might say something that gives you more insight into themselves or their work. Even if they don’t add anything, pausing before speaking shows that you’re listening, that you’re thoughtful, and that you're confident enough to take a steady, measured approach to conversation.
A mile wide and an inch deep
We all know that if we’re talking to someone and they keep glancing over our shoulders or looking around for who they want to talk to next, that the person isn’t genuinely interested in what we have to say. When it comes to making real connections that are going to create meaning in your life, the mile-wide-and-an-inch-deep strategy won’t cut it. Try to approach every conversation with the understanding that everyone has something to offer—not as a placeholder until you find someone “better” to talk to. You might not click with everyone you meet, but if you treat everyone as a person and not as a mere professional opportunity, you will come across as a respectful, genuine, and intelligent person—and that does pay off.
Send the email. Just do it.
One of the biggest mistakes is to have a great conversation with someone you think is super cool, get their business card…and then not do anything with it. It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of reaching out to someone who we find inspiring or who has accomplished incredible things. But if you don’t reach out, you’ll never know. If they don’t respond, okay, that’s their choice. But don’t make the decision for them.
When you do send the email, do it well and do it quickly—don’t wait until two weeks later when the person might not even remember who you are (there are exceptions to this, but, generally speaking, sooner is better). Write a thoughtful email reminding them of who you are, maybe referencing something in your conversation, and then let them know why you’re writing. Do you think you can help out with their research? Do you want to meet up for coffee? Let them know. Oh, and most importantly, don't forget to PROOFREAD!
How do you network effectively? Share with us in the comments!