When I was in college, the word “networking” literally filled me with anxiety. The idea of introducing myself to complete strangers was incredibly intimidating to my very shy nature; but I had it all wrong. Networking should not be scary or intimidating – especially if you approach it with an open mind.
For starters, networking is more than meeting that “one” person who will open doors for you. Networking is about meeting new people with shared interests and building relationships that may become mutually beneficial. While your end goals may be to connect with professionals who have the inside scoop on job openings and other opportunities, networking is also about how you can help others.
Networking can happen in many places: at local events, chamber of commerce meetings, at your internship, at your summer job, at a campus event or even online. However, before you even begin, you need to have a plan for why you want to network, and how you will approach networking – either in person or online. Nevertheless, no matter when, where or how you want to network, there are five basic concepts you want to remember:
1.) Have an Elevator Pitch
When you first meet someone, you need to have a short, concise statement that adequately introduces you. If I was back in college at my Alma mater, my elevator pitch might have sounded like this:
Hi. My name is Trish Freshwater, and I’m a senior at Marist College majoring in psychology. I’m extremely interested in school psychology, particularly diagnostic testing. I’ve really enjoyed my internship at Hyde Park Elementary School, and hope to work in a school setting after I complete my master’s degree. My roommates will be happy about this, too, as they’re tired of being my test subjects.
Of course, life took me in a different direction. However, note the simplicity of my pitch: it states my name, my current status, my professional interests and my future ambition, along with a funny quip to help make me memorable. For more details on how to write your elevator pitch, read this.
2.) Smile, Shake Hands, Look People in the Eye
When you are in a face-to-face networking scenario, it is extremely important to remember that most people will formulate an opinion about you in the first 30 seconds, so be sure to put on a big, natural smile and use a firm handshake. Don’t forget to look people in the eyes to show your sincere interest in what they have to say. Your body language will convey far more than the words you speak. Be confident. Be friendly. Be interested.
3.) Build Your Network
Building your network takes time, and will not happen at one event or in one day of surfing LinkedIn groups. Start with professional student organizations on campus. Often these groups will bring in professionals to speak to students. Introduce yourself and ask if he or she would like to connect on LinkedIn. Look up these professionals on Twitter and start interacting with them.
Other resources include contacts through your professors, chamber of commerce meetings, volunteer organizations where you donate your time, and friends of your parents and other relatives. Once you start to meet people through those you already know, your network will begin to snowball.
4.) Maintain Your Relationships
Meeting people and connecting online is only the first step. Once you have made a connection, you need to support that connection with a meaningful relationship. This means interacting with your contacts online through Twitter or LinkedIn Groups, or even scheduling an occasional lunch or coffee break meeting to talk about topics in your industry. The key is to engage with your contacts and interact on a semi-regular basis, rather than just build an old-fashioned rolodex of names.
5.) Be Generous, Be Valuable
More important than any other aspect of networking is the manner in which you reciprocate or give back to those in your network. In fact, giving of your time without expecting something in return is an amazing way to build your network.
Find out what is important to members of your network and offer to help whenever possible, either with brainstorming ideas or getting involved in their causes. For example, if you are connected to the events manager at the local American Cancer Society, offer to help volunteer in planning/organizing this year’s cancer walk. By getting involved in your network’s initiatives, they will quickly see how valuable you would be for another company by being valuable to them.
Networking does not have to be scary or intimidating, in fact, it’s much like making new friends: you introduce yourself and establish common interests. Then, you work together to meet common goals. Networking can be an amazing opportunity to develop mentoring relationships or meet a future boss. Hold your head up high and put your best foot forward. You’ve got this.
Trish is a senior communications manager for Sodexo, a world leader in quality of daily life solutions that contribute to the progress of individuals and the performance of organizations. As a member of the marketing and communications team for Sodexo’s Talent Acquisition department since 2010, Trish is an employment expert who aims to educate job candidates about the hiring process, networking opportunities and the culture of Sodexo. A graduate of Marist College (BA – Psychology) and the University of Southern Mississippi (MS – Public Relations), Trish has never been far from the classroom. As a former adjunct professor for the College of Charleston and professional advisor for the college’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter, she enjoys helping students reach for their potential and guide them through the process of preparing for their future careers. A lover of technology and gadgets, cookies, chocolate and baking, Trish spends most of her free time raising two small children and competing with husband to obtain the most stamps in her National Parks Passport book. Feel free to connect with Trish or learn more about careers at Sodexo.