Networking is critical to succeed, yet so many of us have zero clue where to begin. It’s never to soon (or too late) to start building your professional bridges when considering college or career. You never know who you might need to know down the line. First and foremost: always be open to learning about others, asking questions, and engaging new people in conversation. Putting yourself out there is the hardest part, but definitely pays off in the long run. Once you make a contact, reel it in: below is quick list of networking tips to follow if you want to learn more about a school, career path or open position.
1. Keep ‘the ask’ short and flattering. Whether it’s an alum of a school you’re interested in or a CEO in the field of your dreams, reach out to the person about a meeting via e-mail or phone call. Keep it brief and light so the person does’t feel pressure if currently very busy, and be sure to express why you think they’d be a great person to talk to. (ex: “Hi Vanessa…I was hoping we could meet up when you have a free moment to chat about X. I think with your experience and passion for Y, you’d be a great person to teach me about Z.”)
2. Only ask for 20 minutes of their time. Again, this goes hand in hand with not putting a ton of pressure on someone with a demanding schedule. Stress in your message that you’re hoping for a quick 20 minutes of their time; not too long that they have to re-arrange a whole afternoon, but not too short that the meeting seems flippant. Be open to a telephone conversation or Skype meeting if it works best for your mentor. In fact, this may be preferable to a cup of coffee- as this ‘networking in the new age’ article suggests.
3. Go to them; offer to meet at their office or a coffee shop near by. It’s best to make the meeting as convenient as possible for the person you’re inviting to chat, so once they agree to a meeting, suggest that you stop by their place of business, or if more appropriate, a coffee shop within close proximity of their office. Tell them when you are free, then let them suggest a time and a place that suits their schedule.
4. If at a coffee shop, offer to pay. This is always a polite gesture to someone who is willing to take time out of their busy day to meet with you. The price of a cup of coffee or a scone is definitely worth the advice you’ll get and the connection you will make. If the person you meet with elaborately insists that he or she buy, it’s certainly ok to let them- but making the gesture is very important.
5. Deliver a strong handshake. When you finally meet up in person, avoid handing out a limp biscuit! Handshakes send out a strong message: you are here to be taken seriously and you are interested in the person you are about to chat with. Make eye contact and hold out a strong arm with an open hand. A solid 2-3 pumps should do- practice with a friend if you’re unsure about it.
6. Come prepared with a good, short list of specific questions. For a 20 minute meeting, you truly want to maximize your time, get to the point, and help the person you are interviewing to help you. A question like “how did you get where you are now” is long winded and can end up anywhere, but a question like “How did you college major influence your career path?” helps to focus the direction of the conversation and is much easier to answer. Having a specific list also demonstrates your interest and thoughtfulness in the person and topic.
7. Write a thank you email, with an optional handwritten note if appropriate. While handwritten notes are a nice formality, usually a thank you e-mail should do the trick. This one is up to you- just be sure to always, always follow up with a detailed thank you.
8. Follow up down the line and let the person know what you ended up doing. Don’t let your initial network meeting be the only touch point. Remember: networking is all about building relationships, not just starting one and leaving it to dry up. Checking in down the line to say what college you were accepted to or what position you decided to take helps to make the person feel more invested in your life, and also indicates that they were able to help guide you to success in some way. Ultimately, staying in touch is where you’ll get the most career value and tangible opportunities.
9. Join LinkedIn. Everyone is on LinkedIn these days (sometimes whether they know it or not!) Be an open book professionally and put your resume out there. Be sure to invite the people you meet with to join your network. More to follow on this topic.
10. Tweet at people you admire and ask questions. Continue to build bridges by establishing a professional network via Twitter. Be sure to clean up your Twitter history for any inappropriate comments, or start a fresh, professional account to network with. Twitter is a great way to join in particular chats pertaining to your interests or start conversations with people who you want to learn from who you may never have a chance to talk with otherwise.
Stay tuned for for Part II, Using LinkedIn Effectively For Teens