You’ve heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but it’s not true.
It’s what you know AND who you know that will land you that first amazing internship or job.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again, yet I still am amazed by how many students fail to take advantage of networking opportunities. These failures lead me to think that perhaps students just don’t understand the value of networking or don’t recognize when they are or should be doing it. If this is you, don’t worry! I’m here to help.
Here is my best advice for how to network like a pro.
Clean up your name
Google yourself. Know what people will see on the first couple of pages when they search your name. It’s one of the first things potential employers will do.
If you don’t like what you see about yourself online, remove it or clean it up. Once you’re done, put a Google Alert on your name so you can track future changes.
Don’t wait until your senior year when you’re starting to think about your job search to begin seriously considering networking. It’s too late! You’ve already spent four years networking, perhaps without even realizing you were doing so. Start networking the minute you walk onto campus and keep going… forever.
Use social media, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, to connect with people working in the types of jobs or in the industry that you want to work in. Find relevant reasons to engage with them online.
Send the right message
You communicate every day with people who have the ability to impact your professional career. You probably call them things like “Professor So-and-so” or “Dr. What’s his name.” Your professors are your first references and the people most likely to be asked about you before you’re hired for an internship or job. What would they say about you? Think about the messages you’re sending them with your course-related professionalism (or not). Change this immediately, if necessary.
Take advantage of every opportunity
Professors frequently encourage networking opportunities like speaker events, conferences and participation in professional organizations. Take advantage of every opportunity provided. You only have four years to lay a foundation for the beginning of your career. Don’t waste it on things that won’t matter post-graduation.
Dress for the job you want
Look neat, clean and professional at any opportunity when you may be networking. Wear business attire to any luncheon, conference, speaker event, training, etc. While you don’t need to wear I business suit to class, I discourage you from looking like you just rolled out of bed (even if you did).
Use the manners your Momma taught you
“Please” and “thank you” still go a long way. Treat your fellow classmates and others with respect. Write a short “thank you” note to anyone who does something special for you. NOTE: An email still is not an acceptable substitute for a handwritten thank you card.
While I’m writing about manners, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY. I’m just as addicted to my phone as everyone else, but you shouldn’t be looking at your phone during times when you should be talking to others and making yourself approachable.
Set networking goals
When you attend a professional function, make a goal of meeting and exchanging cards with five or six people. It’s better to have real conversations and develop stronger connections with a handful of people than to try to meet the entire room.
I find it’s difficult for students to talk about themselves professionally because they’re afraid they’ll sound like they’re bragging. This isn’t bragging, it’s highlighting your skills, and no one else is going to do it for you. Develop an elevator pitch to use at professional events so you’re never caught off guard and unable to take advantage of an opportunity.
Listen more than you talk
Don’t feel the need to fill every second of a conversation with your voice. When you really listen to someone, it naturally leads to further discussion. People enjoy someone who listens to them and asks intelligent, open-ended follow-up questions.
Don’t dare attend an event just to talk to someone you know or be on your phone all night. In fact, don’t even look at your phone. Spend an hour or two totally engaged in what’s happening at the event. Even the most introverted of us can handle and hour.
Never dismiss anyone as unimportant
Treating everyone equally is the best way to build your professional network. You never know who has the connections and ability to help you succeed.
Immediately after every networking function, take a few minutes to send each person you met an email to tell them you enjoyed meeting them. Be sure to include where you met them and a cue or two about your conversation to remind them of who you are.
Ask for the info meeting
Once you’ve made some great connections, the next step is to call or email and set up informational coffees or lunches with them. This will help you stay engaged and learn more about the industry. Remember not to ask for anything during these meetings. These are just about you listening more and learning.
College is the perfect time to start building who you know while you’re regularly working on what you know. The foundations you create during your four years at university will help establish you in your profession. Never underestimate the power of great connections.