Today, the ability to build relationships at organizations matching your interests is crucial to landing internships, job shadowing opportunities and full-time positions post-graduation. Regardless of field or sector, these relationships facilitate new information and can connect you to opportunities that will help shape your professional narrative.
Networking has received an unfair rap from many who see it as “inauthentic” or “slimey”. When working with students, I find the term is often met with hesitation, dread and negativity. Interestingly, many of you are already networking – talking with each other about classes, sharing recommendations about professors, connecting friends to others with matching interests and on it goes. Professional networking is the same exercise, simply placed in a different venue and with a different end goal. In order to help you become more comfortable in developing authentic relationships that will help you build toward your life after Whitman, below are some recommendations to help you create your own professional network.
How and Where to Start
To quote a recent Whitman graduate who met success building his professional network as he was applying to medical school, “Networking is random.” And it’s true. The best connection can come from the most unimagined source, so it stands to reason that the more you reach out to people, the more likely you’ll come across that unimagined source. Here are three ways to connect with new people as you move through your college experience.
In the concession line at an athletic event, while studying at the Patisserie or Olive or on a trip home during 4-day break – these are all circumstances in which you can meet a new acquaintance who can turn into a real connection. Strike up a conversation, ask lots of questions and listen for cues that intersect with your interests.
Whether through campus lecture events, student/alumni meet-ups or conference receptions, engaging with new people will open doors to interesting organizations and experiences that can shape the trajectory of your education and career. Be Prepared by researching the event and attendees in advance so you’re confident and working with a goal in mind. Be Professional in your demeanor with a firm handshake and good eye contact. If possible, have a current copy of your resume ready to send in case someone requests it. Be Open to new ideas and listen attentively to the flow and content of the conversation; it can spark new opportunities and ideas that you may not have considered.
Whitman has tools to help you find and connect with alumni working in the fields that you’re pursuing. With student access to two databases containing upwards of 11,000 alumni, there are ways to connect with many Whitties willing to help you learn more about a multitude of career fields. If you haven’t already, schedule an appointment in the SEC to help you build a LinkedIn profile and set up your account on Whitman Connect (Whitman’s proprietary directory of alumni). These two online resources are incredibly powerful tools to assist in developing relationships and finding organizations that will help you learn and explore. Again, it is important to use an appropriate manner, so be thoughtful in your outreach email. Here is a great article about sending that introductory email. For more information, schedule time with the SEC for a step-by-step walk-through.
Tips to Separate Yourself from the Pack
It can be difficult to distinguish yourself from the hoard of students clamoring for attention. Authenticity is key, but there are other important aspects to making the right impression.
Whether in-person or online, you want to make a strong first impression. Even if an event is in a casual setting, dressing a notch above the standard is ideal. Here is an excellent guide to help. A firm (but not too firm) handshake and good eye contact are an excellent start. If you’re connecting online via email or LinkedIn, avoid a casual tone, include your resume on the first email so they understand a bit about you, and always check for spelling and grammatical errors before hitting ‘send’.
Leaning in and nodding periodically during an in-person or video discussion communicates interest and understanding. An open posture indicates that you’re open to new ideas. When approaching a group, find a space to fit into the group and make eye contact with as many people as possible while asking to join the discussion.
Before meeting someone new or attending an event, prepare your narrative — what you’ve studied, what you’re interested in, what you’ve done and what you hope to do. How do those experiences connect to each other and what your new acquaintance has told you about himself/herself? Practice talking about yourself out loud before an event so you’re comfortable telling your story. If the conversation lulls, ask open-ended questions to gain more insight about this new connection:
- Where do you see career growth happening in your field?
- What skills do you look for most (or find missing) in candidates you interview?
- What talents are expected from your team or co-workers?
Avoid politics and other controversial subjects at professional networking events to keep the discussion focused and congenial.
Maintaining a new connection will fall primarily to you, so have a follow-up strategy for new contacts. Be sure to get a business card or email address so you can stay connected. A thank you email sent within 24-48 hours of meeting is the minimum expected effort; a handwritten note referencing your discussion with them and mailed right after meeting will solidify your intent as a serious contact. It’s a delicate balance to stay in touch without becoming an annoyance. When you have something new to share – an interesting bit of news, an update on your progress, or a new connection for them – share it. If they introduced you to someone or shared a contact with you, let them know how things went. This is the one step that can really make a lasting impression – in your favor, or not – so be sure you finish strong with this follow-up.
Two final recommendations: 1) Before meeting someone new or attending a new event, follow these steps to ensure your social media is a help and not a hindrance to your job/internship search. 2) With every new contact you make, be sure to ask who else you should be meeting or talking with. It is the best way to get connected into their networks and to unearth those aforementioned “unimagined sources”.
You can put all of this work into action during Whitties Helping Whitties networking events taking place throughout the year on campus and in cities like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. Check the SEC events calendar for the next round of events.