As you near graduation, you start to get advice on how best to get closer to your dream job – and an often repeated one is "networking". Your peers talk about it, your professors urge you to get into it, you also see it written about online as the way to go to be shiny and successful. But many are still left confused on what you need to do and even intimidated by going about networking successfully. In the next 3 blogs, we will break this concept down into actionable and digestible bits and tackle the following broad queries:
- What is networking?
- What’s not networking?
- What does it help you achieve?
- Where can you network?
- How can you prep for it?
- What’s the Hidden Job Market?
- How do I get started? - Good stuff about LinkedIn!
We will also share simple exercises so you can convert your thoughts and learnings into action! Let's dive in :)
Many students I met find it easier to simply visit company websites, apply online and send in their resume. Why bother networking? It’s is a lot of work and besides, you’re not really a people person.
While there’s nothing wrong with looking for opportunities online, the pack may be moving ahead leaving you behind. Given the stats, you stand a 1 in 60 chance to land an interview, and that’s just the first step of the process. With networking, if done well, the odds are significantly greater at 1 in 6. Besides, with networking, you end up making a possibly lasting, personal impression and even tapping the hidden job market (details in our next blog!)
So, what is Networking?
Networking may be a new age concept, but it follows the ever-true idea of making yourself visible and having memorable interactions with people you come across in everyday situations to achieve a certain objective or just form a working relationship. It is more relevant than ever in today’s world.
Why do people do it?
To break an age-old myth off the bat- Getting a job is just ONE of the many reasons/objectives people network! Wondering what the other reasons are? Some of them may surprise you. People network to:
- Learn about new jobs/fields/industries and be in the know, and make informed, smart decisions about their careers when the time comes
- Seek guidance from seasoned contacts about their industry/field/job based on their experience
- Learn more about opportunities to target or shortlist jobs/companies based on industry experts
- Get introduced to their extended contacts to in turn connect with them for either a job opportunity/referral or general advice
- Seek references and recommendations
- Ask general advice and discuss one's success stories
- Increase visibility and presence in the interested field’s community, to be thought of for future opportunities the contact may come across
- Help out others by paying it forward and spreading the expertise gained from networking
- Talk about potential business ideas and find potential start-up partners /investors /mentors or stakeholders in a different capacity
- Seek business funding passively or actively
- Get help in finding the right talent for an opportunity, in recruitment and hiring (It works the other way too!)
- Raise donations for a certain cause
- Simply get to know more people, increase the circle of contacts who can be tapped and have great conversations :)
To place this in a broad framework, networking is simply connecting and talking with people formally, informally or sometimes impromptu, most often within your industry or interested domains and usually outside your closest circle of friends, family and colleagues.
What does networking look like?
Many assume that networking usually involves making yourself visible and successfully conversing in one of those intimidating formal events where you are thrown in a banquet hall full of groomed and uptight professionals, all holding wine and snackables (known to regulars as “networking food”), waiting for you to ask them for a job. That assumption is not only untrue in most networking situations, but can be dangerous for your nerves if you see it in such light.
While formal events are most commonly categorized as “networking events” meant specifically for this purpose (and I promise, is milder & friendlier than the intimidation-hall style many imagine;)), networking can happen in a variety of situations, many of which you may have not even realized. Here are examples of how networking could look for students:
- Connecting with a guest lecturer at your college after their talk to ask questions, share your takeaways etc. This is a great networking opportunity to make yourself visible. Down the line you may even be applying for a job in their company, you never know!
- A college fest where you connect with like-minded people over a project and voila, your bright minds may end up collaborating on a start-up idea!
- You bump into a college alumnus who works in the company (you maybe aspiring to get into). Seize the opportunity (if they have the time/are up for the chat) to explore her/his knowledge on upcoming opportunities, their thoughts on working for the company, how they made it there etc. If all goes well, they may even turn out to recommend you in the coming months! Having said that, be conscious of their time and energy.
- A more obvious one is when you attempt to get in touch with a hiring manager to discuss a job opening in his team/department. Ensure you have your queries ready and treat it like an interview.
- A bold attempt to identify real business efficiencies and present your solution to your dream company. For all you know, they may invite you for a chat and things could work out.
- A request to your professors/family/friends/neighbors/family of friends seeking contacts in a particular field/industry where you aim to get in touch with those contacts for a job (or) for general discussion and advice. The contact could as well be in your circle already.
What is it Not?
Networking does not have to be a switch that needs to be turned on at a specific time and place, it is can simply be the art of having smart, interesting conversations effortlessly, anywhere and anytime two people get into a conversation. Yes anywhere. Because you can sometimes find yourself in the middle of situations where you maybe get to sit next to someone you always wanted to work with on a flight, you get stuck in an elevator with a CEO you admire or your neighbor turns out to be an industry guru capable of mentoring you on your career path!
I’d like to think of networking as a bit like dating (please don't take this literally and start hitting on your contacts!). You don’t want to come off too forceful, forward or blunt. Nor do you want to fake it just so you can get what you need and move on. What it definitely is NOT is blatantly asking for “So…umm… I want a job”, "Can you get me a job". It’s okay to want a job, but be aware of how you come across to the contact: desperate? overbearing? You want to ensure the contact is comfortable with you.
I’d avoid “So I am looking, let me know if you have anything open” or “Any job will do”. The question is so open ended, they might not know what you want/where to being and might even wonder if you lack focus or interest in a particular field (is it just about the money?) Without a starting point, people may tell you "I will for sure" but they will forget thanks to the ambiguity.
Networking is a lot of work but the results are sweet. Preparing for a networking situation need not be as complex as many believe. You simply need to:
- Be aware of yourself, your behavior, actions and what you are capable of.
- Always have a few good stories on your abilities at the ready (Keep STAR in mind, only here your content will be conversational rather than structured for a resume)
The 1st two will especially come in handy in your impromptu situations.
- If you are aware of an upcoming networking situation, you’ve got time to prep: think of what you definitively want out of the meeting/session/event. Are you seeking some funding? Connections/referral for a job? A co-founder? Some great hires? Remember, no one likes vague requests or statements like "so…umm… I want a job" or "I am not sure what I want to do in life". Save this for your next chat with your best friend. Be polite, mindful and pace yourself as you ease into the conversation. Give your full, undivided attention to the answer and the person. Everyone appreciates being listened to and what’s more, flattered to be asked for advice/help/expertise.
- Provide the required context if you are leading up to a question.
- If you are informal networking situations, make sure you are on time and carry a pen and a notepad to take notes of names. If you have business cards (many MBA programs encourage that), take them with you! No laptops, no resumes, no business plans. Remember to keep it light and simple in the first meeting. Your brain should do all the talking here :)
- Whether formal or impromptu, be thankful to the person for their time and always write back afterward with your appreciation for their advice, and anything you found positive about the conversation. This is key to good networking. Not only to be gracious but to continue your correspondence and follow up on your conversation/requirement and next steps!
To network successfully, getting over the initial fear is vital. Practice a few of your stories facing the mirror or with a friend, have a positive attitude and a calm, relaxed and focused mind while networking. And there you are, all that’s left is to simply go for it.
What is the worst that could happen? You could get ignored, they could directly say no or your conversation flops. So what? No love lost, and you’ll learn and do it better the next time ;) What's the best that could happen? You could gain some valuable advice, make lasting contacts, meet your future business partner, bag your dream job and so much more! The sky is the limit.
Go get ‘em. And remember to enjoy yourself out there.
Hope you enjoyed reading and learned something new :) In my upcoming blogs, we discuss the virtues of the "the hidden job market", meandering LinkedIn and more. We are also working on continuing with the video series for you soon! In the meanwhile:
Prepare yourself for networking by:
- Thinking of ONE objective you want to achieve (a job, advice, connections, mentor, funding etc.) and write down the specifics. If it is a job - What, which industry, which title, when, what location (multiple?) etc. Be aware of what you want.
- Prepare a few stories to highlight who you are and how you bring values you’ve picked up. Write this in bullets or on note cards. It will help ;)
- Think of the ways you can network to reach your goal. Make a list of people/events/situations that have the potential to get you a step closer to your objective (College event, professors, online research etc.) with a specific timeline. While you cannot control impromptu meets, you can plan the rest :)
- Have a handy Thank you email ready for use after every networking attempt. Definitely customize the message based on how the conversations went, avoid sending the same content to everyone. You may be seen as insincere if they see the same message being sent to another contact.
- Invest in a good pen/pocket diary.
- Wondering about your attire? If it is a formal event, follow the given dress code. If informal (or) self-initiated (coffee/lunch/catch up), dress smart. A casual coffee chat may not require a suit-and–tie, but a formal event might.
With that, you are set to start networking!
Write to us about your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Manish N Gaba
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