We all know that networking can be key to landing that great job when you graduate, or enhancing your skill set to position you for a promotion. At the same time, we also know that networking can be intimidating to many. Have you ever hesitated to attend an event because you thought you didn’t know how to network? Or, when you arrived at an event and met people, had no idea what to talk about after the handshake? Let me share a few tips about networking that will make it a fun and worthwhile experience.
Very simply, networking allows you to build a resource library of people who may be able to help you in a number of different ways – from learning about opportunities, to building your skill sets, to introducing you to key people in your field. Networking can also help you foster long lasting relationships that will be a resource to you throughout your professional career.
Most of us already are networking and don’t even realize it!
You are networking when you:
• volunteer to participate on a project with other people
• go to get a burger in between classes and sit at a table with people you may or may not know and start a conversation
• join a student organization or professional association
• engage in conversation with your professors and department chairs
• connect or reconnect with friends on Facebook or MySpace
• walk to class and hold a conversation with a friend
• attend a career-oriented conference and meet company representatives
• ask for the business card of the recruiter who visited your campus and follow up with a periodic e-mail.
How can you make the most of your networking?
1. Start by preparing your own story. Who are you? What are your interests and skills? What do you have to offer others?
2. Get feedback. Ask your roommate, or others who you know will give you honest feedback, to listen to your story so that you can make it more engaging.
3. Learn the art of starting a conversation. Ask appropriate questions that show your interest in others, find areas of common interest and help you to connect: “Where do you work, and what do you do?” “What types of opportunities does your company have for someone with my skills?”
4. Learn to listen and not be the one who is always talking.
5. Know that networking is a two-way proposition – be prepared to share with others and you will find that they will also be willing to share with you
6. Stay in touch. Stay connected with people you meet who have left you with the “wow factor.” Some people you meet will have you wanting to connect with them to learn more about them and the company that they represent.
7. Make business cards and do not be afraid to give them out. I am reminded of the story of Mary Kay and how she would give out a business card everywhere she went. In the mall or the market, she was always prepared to give out her card. She was creating a network. I am not suggesting that you give a card to everyone you come in contact with, just be prepared to give out a card when needed.
8. Use every opportunity to get better at networking – and realize that with social networking, you can build a vast network by taking full advantage of the many sites where people gather electronically around areas of mutual interest – via Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter. Don’t overlook companies and professional associations that provide specific venues to connect with their employees. For example, Sodexo provides a variety of ways for you to network with its employees by visiting the Network With Us page on the company website.
9. Set goals on the people you want to meet each week. Go after your goal aggressively.
10. Commit to staying in touch with your network – if you do, you will find that over time you have a rich resource of valued individuals who you can draw on throughout your personal and professional career.
If you adopt these few tips on networking, you will build a strong network that will serve you well as you start your career. Good luck!
Derren is the Manager, Diversity Recruiting for Sodexo which is a leader in integrated food service and facilities management. He is responsible for managing the Sodexo Future Leaders Internship Program as well as executing diversity sourcing initiatives for both campus and targeted experienced hires.