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Your Unofficial Guide to Networking: Making the Right Connections Effortlessly

Your Unofficial Guide to Networking: Making the Right Connections Effortlessly
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Noodle Staff March 12, 2024

Networking giving you the sweats? It's just professional friending - no cringe needed. Let's dive in!

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Hey there, fresh-faced professional! So, you’ve got the degree, the drive, and the dream job in mind, but the thought of networking has you breaking out in a cold sweat? Fear not! Networking doesn’t have to be a chore. Think of it as making friends, but with a slight professional twist. Let’s dive into the ins and outs of networking without the cringe factor.

Networking is Just Fancy Adult Friending

You know how you made friends back in college? Networking is kind of like that, only this time, your playground is the professional world. Remember:

  • It’s a Two-Way Street: You’re not just collecting contacts like baseball cards. It’s about building real relationships. Share your story, but also be genuinely interested in theirs.
  • Be Authentic: Drop the stiff formalities. Be yourself, approachable, and personable. Believe it or not, people prefer talking to humans, not robots.
  • Nurture the Connection: Just like friendships, your professional relationships need some TLC. A casual check-in here and there nurtures the connection.

1. Networking doesn’t always mean sending cold emails.

First off, it would be a mistake to think of networking as exclusively putting yourself out there in ways that make you uncomfortable. Everything from staying active on LinkedIn and Twitter, to getting coffee with a friend in your field might fit under the umbrella.

If you legitimately enjoy their company, staying in contact with professors, past co-workers, and old bosses is one of the best ways to develop and maintain professional connections. Doing these things won’t feel forced because they won’t be forced. Plus, if you send enough professional emails and make enough phone calls, like all things that become habit, they will eventually feel completely normal.

2. You can talk to people like they’re people.

Would you rather be addressed at the beginning of an email with “To whom it may concern” or “Hello”? The recipients on the other end of your professional emails are also people, and like most of us, probably prefer being addressed as if you’re imagining a real person. People generally respond well to being addressed in a friendly, polite manner, and it will make you feel more at ease too. No one wants to be engaged in a robotic exchange, even if it’s considered “professional.”

Sound like you’re starting a conversation, instead of someone who immediately wants something. Make an (entirely inoffensive) joke about the weather or whatever. Of course, always stay professional, but just because you’re contacting someone for professional reasons doesn’t mean she wants to hear words like “distinctive” and “hitherto.” Let her know that you know something about her work and that you’re interested in learning more. Ask if you can meet for coffee, and be prepared with some questions you genuinely want to discuss. Sincerity is key here; people love to talk about what they do, but you have to want to learn.

3. The worst someone can say is “no.”

It’s a cliche, I know. And there are technically worse things people could say, but your chance of getting any kind of nasty response to a professional email is probably about the same as netting $500 on a dollar scratch-off ticket.

If someone has taken time from her schedule to let you know that a position is already filled, or that she really can’t meet for coffee next week, or that she’s not currently looking for new help at the moment, that’s a net positive because at least you’re on their radar. Simply send an appreciative follow-up and let her know that you’ll stay in touch. And then do it after a respectable interval of time.

So really, the worst thing that can happen when sending a networking email is not getting a response, in which case, you can just dust your shoulders off and move on to the next thing.

4. There are no quotas.

You always want to stay professionally active and set goals, but don’t put extreme amounts of pressure on yourself about it. If you’re a super-organized person and telling yourself “I will send 15 networking emails this week” will help you, by all means do it. But if that’s just not how you operate, don’t drive yourself insane trying to work up to some artificial goal that no one else is keeping tabs on.

By simply being proactive about communicating with other like-minded professionals (let’s not call them “contacts,” which is a bit depersonalizing, don’t you think?) as often as you can, you’re already giving yourself a leg up. Even by taking the time to read through this article, you’re moving in the right direction. Congratulations! Also, have you been working out?

5. Most people want to help.

Here’s the thing about doing nice things for other people: it feels good.

It’s the reason people volunteer and hold doors, and society doesn’t slip into a fiery dystopian free-for-all. You might encounter someone who’s too busy to respond or isn’t really in any position to help out, but you have nothing to lose by sending an email or making a phone call. You’ll generally be surprised by how willing people are to extend a hand to someone who takes the time to ask for it. Also, people like being asked for advice or assistance because it reminds them that they are in-the-know and important.

(Written by Adam D’Arpino)

Chat Up Like a Pro

Here’s how you can charm the room without even trying too hard:

  • Have an “Elevator Pitch” Ready: This isn’t your life story, just a quick highlight reel that sparks interest. Think of it as a teaser trailer to the blockbuster that is you.
  • Ask Questions: People appreciate genuine interest in their experiences. Plus, it shows you’re engaged, and hey, you might learn something useful.
  • No Desperation, Please: You’re there to mingle, not beg for a job. Chill. Opportunities come to those who aren’t just handing out resumes like flyers.

1. Recognize everyone’s value

Throughout your internship, you will have frequent interactions with managers, company employees and other interns. Managers are the gatekeepers between you and future opportunities (you’ll need a reference, after all!), and can give you insight on your performance and the characteristics of successful employees. Employees understand the industry and can offer advice on entering the field. Other interns can offer support throughout the internship process. Each group can also give you access to members of their professional network and inform you of future internship and employment leads.

2. Observe and be seen

From day one of your internship, make sure you are introduced to as many people as you can handle. Volunteer for cross-departmental projects to broaden your exposure (and increase the diversity of your network). Take time to look and listen to your surroundings as well. Do employees socialize with each other occasionally throughout the day, or do they wait until lunch? Are their interactions formal or informal? Are interruptions welcome or do people request meetings instead?

3. Break the ice

Taking the first step towards professional relationship-building can be intimidating. However, even anxious interns can easily do this by taking one simple approach: Asking others for information and advice. Let your co-workers know that you’d love to get their insight on your internship performance and their professional experiences. Give them an opportunity to feel like they’ve mentored you by keeping the focus of early discussions on them — they should feel flattered and willing to help. Continue these conversations as regularly as you can.

Remember: it’s not who you know that counts, it’s who knows (remembers) you!

4. Play the game

It is true that your internship may not always be enjoyable, and complaining about work may be an activity that co-workers sometimes bond over. However, doing so is what’s expected of an average- to low-performing worker.

Your challenge is to overcome that perception so that your co-workers juxtapose your great work ethic against other interns. Don’t (never, ever) complain to anyone about work — especially on social media sites or via email. Distance yourself from conversations with other interns and employees who do complain about work. If you ever have a problem, know that it is best to discuss it with your internship supervisor.

5. Return the favor

Recognizing that your performance impacts others is one of the best ways to convey your appreciation for your co-workers’ feedback and mentorship. Having a positive attitude and doing a great job (especially on boring tasks) may also lead to special internship assignments with increased responsibilities and visibility.

Of course, co-workers and supervisors appreciate the occasional expression of gratitude. According to Maria Woodruff of Business Insider, a carefully selected card can go a long way. “Don’t just buy some $1 card from a drugstore,” Maria says. “Get something beautiful that they’ll want to keep on their desk in plain sight. Every time they look at it, they’ll remember that thoughtful intern they liked so much — and that’s half the battle won already.”

(Written by Jade Jenkins)

The Follow-Up: Say Thanks and Stay Connected

You’ve had a great chat, now what?

  • Gratitude is Golden: A simple ‘thank you’ can be powerful. Whether it’s a note, email, or a LinkedIn message, make sure to express your appreciation.
  • Keep the Conversation Going: Remember to follow up. Not daily (that’s stalker territory), but periodically. Share an interesting article, or just a “thought of you when I saw this!”

Make friends

This might seem obvious, but remember, grad school is not like undergrad. You might be living in graduate student housing, but you’re not surrounded by a bunch of 18 year-olds anymore, eager to make friends with everyone they meet. A lot of people in your program might be married or working part time, making them a bit less social than they were back in the good ol’ days.

So go out of your way to organize happy hours, study sessions or volunteer trips, and get to know your classmates. They will be your most solid network post-graduation, and could very well help you land your dream job after school.

Make friends with your professors

Your teachers in grad school are some of the top experts in their field. They have the life experience that makes them great educators and great mentors. Whether you’re getting a more practical masters in something like business or marketing or getting your degree in a more theoretical field like philosophy or literature, your professors can help guide you through your next step. They can help you figure out where you fit in, and are also likely to be well connected, either in academia or the professional world.

Go to those fun awkward networking events

We know, they can be a bit of a hassle and generally pretty awkward (name tags, bad hors d’oeuvres, etc.) But if you have decent conversation skills, dust off your finest business casual attire and check out a few of your school’s networking events.

The people there are actively taking the time to participate in this event, so they’re likely to be interested in your experience and be on the lookout for possible job candidates. Just practice some good opening liners and ice breakers, and you’re good to go.

Get to know alumni

Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or your school’s alumni office, get to know your former classmates. They will immediately have a connection to you and most likely have an interest in giving you a hand when it comes to the job search, since they were once in the same boat as you. Connect with alumni who have jobs you’re interested in and keep in touch with them throughout your time in grad school. You never know where the relationship could lead.

Take an internship

Don’t think that you’re too old or too experienced for an internship (yes, even if it’s unpaid.) You’re most likely not in class all day, so what better way to spend your time (when you’re not rigorously studying or avoiding undergrads) than getting on-the-job experience interning for a company or an organization in your industry?

A lot of graduate programs require an internship, and will offer school credit. But even if they don’t, committing to something 2-3 days a week can help build your resume, strengthen your skill set, and help you develop a strong network within your field.

Networking Goofs and the Smooth Recovery

We’re all human, and we all goof up. Here’s how to bounce back:

  • The Oversell: Whoops, went full infomercial, didn’t you? Reign it in. Be more conversational next time.
  • The Chatterbox: Took over the conversation? It happens. Next time, practice the art of pausing and inviting others to share.
  • Overly Eager for Employment: Gave off a “please hire me” aura? Reset the tone by focusing on how you can contribute, not just what you can get.

1. The Hard Sell

Networking is all about getting your name in front of someone and developing a relationship. Share your story and successes, but don’t be a pushy salesperson. You should be marketing yourself, not selling yourself. They are very different approaches.

There is nothing worse than an over ambitious person who comes off self-centered, desperate to impress, and takes no interests in the other person. They spend the majority of the time talking about themselves and their accomplishments. This is selling, and it’s something you should avoid.

If you are familiar with marketing, you know it’s about understanding your audience and how to appeal to them in an effective way. It’s about how to position yourself so people respond to you and what you have to offer.

Fix:

Think in marketing terms. You are a product trying to reach a particular target market. You need to create a brand for yourself. Start this process by positioning yourself so that others will be interested in you. Before a networking opportunity, think about who you are, your strengths and interests, and then how to summarize that. Package it in a succinct “elevator pitch” that hits all your points. An elevator pitch is a casual 30-second or less pitch (something you could start and finish in the time it takes you to go up the elevator… with others listening) about your interests, strengths and accomplishments. It’s your conversation starter, and is designed to lead to further discussion. If you can literally write it on the back of your business card, then you have a concise position. If it doesn’t fit on the back of the card, it’s too long… start again. Your elevator pitch and positioning will evolve with time and as you receive feedback. But remember, you don’t need to sell.

2. Talking Too Much

Many people fall into the trap of talking about themselves too much when networking. Networking only works when it is a two way street.

Fix:

Remember these two rules:

  • Don’t over share
  • Make the other person feel valued.

When you find yourself among people in industries and careers that interest you, start out by introducing yourself and then focus on them. Ask how they got their start, what they love about their job, and what kind of things they work on. Listen to what they say and read their body language. If they’re engaged in the conversation and aren’t looking for the exit, then it’s appropriate to work in the points of your elevator pitch. Keep in mind that it’s a conversation. Give the other person time to react and don’t forget to listen. If you dominate the conversation, you’re probably selling. Whatever you do, don’t be a “hanger on.” Once the conversation dies, move on. Let the person know that it was nice to meet them, and if you made a connection (you won’t with everyone), ask if you can follow up with them in the future. Make sure to use your marketing tools: your business card and a genuine “Thank You.” They are both part of your brand image. Keep in mind people will remember the impression you made on them (your image), much longer than anything you said.

3. Expecting a Job

Too often people network like a hawk circling prey. Their focus is purely on job prospects. They network by asking everyone they meet about jobs, or for their help finding one. Be careful not to come off needy and desperate. If you attend an event and focus solely on job opportunities, people will figure you out and shy away. They will be less likely to help you in the future.

Fix:

Slow down. Think of networking as a chain of events which starts with creating your brand and positioning yourself so that others will like you and find value in what you have to offer. Making a good impression on one person may lead to another contact, and so on and so on. Eventually, the job opportunity will present itself. You can’t force it to happen. But that’s not a reason to be lazy. Networking is a lot of work. You need to do your homework and be willing to make yourself available to others.

Before a networking opportunity, do some research and find out something about the people you might meet (marketing research). Try to find common interests prior to the event. Remember: know your market…and listen. Find out how you can help them. Don’t be afraid to offer your help…even if it is volunteering. It is a great way to show off your talents. It also shows that you are willing to work hard to be successful. This contributes to the brand image you are trying to create for yourself. Contacts are more likely to help you if you show interest in helping them.

4. Forgetting to Show Gratitude

No matter how good a conversation goes, you can still leave a negative impression if you forget to thank the person for their time. This is such a simple thing, yet it’s so often overlooked. Most networking opportunities die after the first meeting because people forget to send a thank you note.

Fix:

If you take up someone’s time, let them know you appreciate it. Whether you are at a large event or one-on-one, always thank the person for their time. If you have their business card or know how to reach them, follow up with a brief Thank You note. Not only are you demonstrating that you value the other person’s time and insight, you are also getting your name in front of that person one more time. If you want to leave a lasting impression, make a good one. The contact is more likely to take your call if they think highly of you. Read more about student success and the power of Thank You.

5. Forgetting to Stay in Touch

Most people leave a networking event having had several conversations. Unfortunately, that’s often where the relationship ends. Most people neglect to follow up with anyone they met, or only reach out to the ones who might have a job opening in the immediate future. This is a really bad idea. Networking is a life long process. You never know how the people you meet might be able to open doors for you in the future, and vice versa. Make sure people don’t forget you. You need to follow up and stay in touch.

Fix:

Follow up. Send the people in your network a note or email every month or so and keep them updated on what you’re doing. You can also use social media sites like LinkedIn to stay in touch. LinkedIn is more business-oriented than Facebook. If you find ways to help network members out, share the information with them. Networking is about give and take. By staying in touch, you keep yourself in the forefront of their mind.

6. Being Impatient

The most important thing I can share with you about networking is that it’s not about short-term gain. It is about exploration, information sharing and developing relationships with others. You should be in it for the long haul. I can guarantee that networking will lead you toward your goal if you continue to protect your brand image by being viewed as someone who appreciates others and isn’t a short term user. Good networking is about being there for others knowing that someday they will be there for you.

(Written by Brian Harke)

The Art of Patience

  • Networking is a Slow Dance: It’s not speed dating. Building relationships takes time. Be patient, keep nurturing those connections, and watch them grow.

So, there you have it, your no-sweat guide to networking. It’s really just about being yourself, making genuine connections, and yes, having a bit of fun along the way. Now go on, get out there and start turning those handshakes into opportunities! Remember, every professional was once a newbie. You’ve got this!

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