The art of networking is often one of the trickiest skills to learn as a recent grad or student. Networking can often feel awkward and insincere. However, building a professional network is incredibly important – especially for those of us in the beginning stages of our career. Knowing the right people can often come in handy when it comes to finding internships, jobs, and other important professional opportunities. So, with that all said, how can you network more effectively?
If you are attending a networking event…
- Bring plenty of resumes and business cards. Keep these on hand, but tucked away in a folder (or something similar) so that they are not distracting, but still easy to reach.
- Bring a pen/pencil to make note of any important information someone might give you, or in case someone runs out of business cards and you need to jot down their contact information.
- Dress professionally. Make sure your outfit is clean, fits well and is appropriate for the event. First impressions count—you don’t want to come across as sloppy, unprepared, or lacking in attention to detail!
- Research the event’s attendees and make a note of the professionals you are most interested in speaking to. Make sure you are familiar with those professionals’ resumes/backgrounds, so that you can ask better questions than the run-of-the-mill “what do you do?” ones.
- Find common (professional) ground. If you see someone on the attendee list that has something in common with you, point it out to him or her to create an easy, memorable connection (e.g. the same undergraduate education, if you interned with their organization, before, etc.).
- Mentally prepare a list of “stock” questions, in case of an awkward silence or gap in conversation. (e.g. “what is the most challenging aspect of your job?” or “what would be your advice for students who want to break into your field?”)
- Smile! Being friendly and approachable goes a long way in making a great impression.
- Don’t be controversial, rude, or “edgy”—this should go without saying, but play it safe in terms of the conversation topics. This is not the time for an off-color joke, or rant on politics, no matter how appropriate it may seem.
- Know your strengths and have a quick “bio” of yourself prepared, in case you’re asked about yourself. You want to know all of your “selling points.”
- Be a good, active listener and ask relevant follow-up questions. You want to make sure that they know you’re interested in what they have to say.
- Thank them for their time. If a conversation is winding down, be sure to thank them for speaking to you and let them know you appreciate the information they shared.
- Get a business card or their contact information. Do not leave a conversation without one!
- Follow up. Send them a quick email after the event and let them know you enjoyed speaking with them. Include a memorable part of your conversation with them (they will most likely get many emails after the event, so you want to make sure they know who you are) in the email.
Outside of networking events…
- Always be a professional. You never know when you’ll meet a potential connection, so conduct yourself in a professional way, no matter what the circumstances—this includes social media! First impressions do not always happen when you’re prepare for them (i.e. networking/professional events), but you always want to be ready to put your best foot forward. So be polite, clean up your social media profiles, and make sure you come across as a professional.
- Don’t be afraid to seek out people for networking purposes. For example, if you’re an intern, don’t be afraid to reach out to people within that organization and let them know you’d be interested in grabbing a cup of coffee and discussing their career.
Want more information about how to network effectively? Check out this Girl’s Guide to Law School article.