By Maggie Gover
For some, networking is the most pleasurable part of their professional lives. For others, the very word produces fear and anxiety. If you are a natural networker, you are lucky! When asked how people got their jobs, the number one answer involves some sort of networking. Many of my graduate students and clients know that they should be networking, but they are puzzled by exactly what this means. Here are the four easiest and most effective ways that I have found to network.
1. The Informational Interview
The informational interview can give you a lot of bang for your buck. Not only can you learn a great deal about a profession you are considering, but you can also start building your professional network. In an informational interview, you will be asking questions about a specific job at a particular company. You will also be finding out about other opportunities. You can ask if this person knows anything about current or upcoming job openings at his/her company or others.
The person you are interviewing can also point you toward two of the other networking opportunities. Find out if they know of volunteering or internship positions that might give you both professional experience and the opportunity to meet others in the field. Also find out if there are professional associations or groups that you could join. Make sure that the conversation is not dominated by asking whom the person you are interviewing can connect you to. Instead, primarily ask information-gathering questions and ask about ways that you can connect yourself to others in the field. Most importantly, do not lose touch with the person you have interviewed as soon as the interview is over. Instead, connect to them on LinkedIn!
LinkedIn.com is the latest rage in professional networking, and enthusiasm for it is only growing. This is also a rather easy platform for networking. If you don’t have an account, you should definitely set one up, update it often and, even when you have a job, keep it updated. Just like a resume, it is hard to update your LinkedIn page if you have not been steadily refreshing it.
Connect with whomever you know who already has a LinkedIn account. At first, it may look like only those in your current profession, academia, are linked to you. However, soon you will find that your friends and acquaintances will start connecting with you as well. As you connect with more people, endorse their skills as appropriate. You can also request that they endorse your skills. As you do so, you are building not only a resume but an online presence with people who are vouching for your effectiveness as a worker. As you complete informational interviews, connect on LinkedIn. If you have volunteer or interning experiences, connect on LinkedIn. As you make professional connections, connect on LinkedIn. When you meet people in bars, connect on LinkedIn. Okay, maybe not bars all the time, but here is a guide for when you should connect on LinkedIn. If a business card was exchanged, if you talked about how your work intersects with the other person’s work, or if a business card exchange would have been appropriate in the Mad Men days, you should connect on LinkedIn.
3. Volunteering or Interning
You are a graduate student or an already incredibly busy working academic. You have a family, or a significant other, or a cat that requires more attention than you can give. You don’t have time to volunteer or intern. I get it. But I also know that this is one of the best ways to show off your skills to potential employers and to get references who, when called, can talk about practical skills you can bring to the work place.
Interning and volunteering can give clout to your application when you are applying for a position. Instead of saying, “I have always been interested in working for a theater non-profit” with little proof that this is the case, you can show that you have always been interested in a theater non-profits by talking about your volunteer work during the local elementary school spring play. Instead of saying, “after my PhD, I am excited to translate my passion for environmental science research to the environmental science industry,” you can show that you have experience writing and editing an air quality blog on the county’s website. Additionally, people you work with can do things like endorse your skills on LinkedIn, point you to jobs openings, be listed as references, suggest additional trainings you might need to advance to higher paying jobs, and generally become part of your professional network.
4. Joining and Attending Professional Association Meetings or Group Events
Look for professional groups or associations that meet your interests. Those you have interviewed may have given you a few leads as will those with whom you have interned. However, you may want to do some exploring on your own as well. Think about professional organizations that fit the types of employment in which you are interested. Are you interested in the non-academic side of university life? Try the National Academic Advising Association. They offer discounted memberships to those who are still students and allow those who are not currently working at an institute of higher education to join and attend conferences and regional meetings. Do you want to use all of your conference-planning prowess to move into professional event planning? Try the Event Planners Association. They too offer a student or entry-level membership. Or you can seek professional networks that connect a special interest group that may or may not be confined to one industry. The Association for Women in Communications or the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources might be for you, and both offer student or recent graduate membership options. In general, look for professional associations that have student or entry-level memberships that are under $100 annually and have regional meetings in your area.
Don’t be afraid to seek more informal opportunities as well. These will often be cheaper and easier to fit into your schedule. Are you an environmental researcher or have you always been interested in environmentally friendly products and lifestyle choices? Why not start attending Green Drinks meetings? You can even find meet-up groups in your area that might help you connect. Just type in your zip code and select how far you are willing to travel to explore the opportunities in your area. My favorites are the young professionals and the entrepreneurs groups in various cities, but try others that are interesting to you! The point to all of these is that you will be meeting other people with like interests and professional networks.
Whichever methods or combinations of methods you choose for networking with others, remember that networking is not a one-time thing. You must periodically touch base with your group, just as you do with your friends. So find an option that works well for you, and make sure it becomes a regular event in your agenda.