Networking: Getting started (Part 1)

My cousin goes back to San Jose State’s college of business every semester to talk to juniors and seniors, and one of the things he stresses to them is the value of networking.

My cousin and I, like many people, didn’t really get into networking until we needed a job.  It’s too bad, because it was at that point that we realized we should have started much earlier.  And so we go back to colleges to tell juniors and seniors to learn from our mistakes and begin to network while still in school.

Many students I’ve talked to recognize that this is good advice, but don’t know how to act on it.

“But I don’t have a network.  Most of the people I know are my age.”

You do have a network.  Remember, a network is a set of interdependent relationships in which people will want to help you and have the means to help you.  I can think of at least one person who will want to help you. Your mom.

I bet there are others who would be happy to help you: your dad, your siblings, your extended family, your neighbors growing up, your old coach, your favorite teachers from high school, your spiritual leader, your current professors, friends from the class that graduated above you, etc.

“But none of those people are doing things I’m interested in.”

Remember that networking is not just about who you know, but who *they* may know. Maybe your dad plays tennis with someone who studied the same thing you’re studying.  Your grandma’s friend from church just retired from being the head of a big company.  My boyfriend’s mom trains in kung fu with a woman who gave me great career advice (true story).

Yet all these people who would love to help you, may not know that you need them to, or how.  You have to tell them.

“So what do I ask for?  I don’t event know what kind of job I want.”

You don’t have to.  That’s why you need their help.  Besides, you’re not asking for a job.  You will be asking your network to put you in touch with people who can provide you with information, advice, and more people to contact. The goal is to have your network put you in touch with people with whom you have a 20-30 minute conversation, often called an “informational interview.”  These informational interviews are a way for you to learn about what options exist for you, and what it takes to get there.

“Ok. But I feel bad.  Why would someone want to take time out of their busy schedule to talk to me?”

Here’s the biggest secret about informational interviews: People love talking about themselves. They LOVE it.  Trust me.  I admit it.  I love talking about myself.  And wow, if talking about myself can *help* someone?  AWESOME.

I hope I’ve dispelled any mental blocks you’ve had about networking, because it’s time to get started.  Next post: How to write that letter asking for help.

5 thoughts on “Networking: Getting started (Part 1)

  1. Networking was such the buzz word in college, but like many things during that time, the value never had a personal relevance for me until recently. One thing you never hear when people talk about networking strategies is the importance of reaching out to complete strangers. Networking is usually pitched as engaging others who are one or two degree separated, but what happens when the degrees of separation feel like it could be six.

    As I’ve tried to figure out my professional future in NY over the last year, I’ve taken to emailing all sorts of people I’ve never met in my life, introducing myself, and asking to meet and talk about my future. Success rate? Easily 75%. And what’s come from it? Consulting work. Job offers. A new network.

    In my experience, I’ve been able to build my network more aggressively by reaching out to random people than utilizing a friend or connection. It’s something that people need to do more of when “networking.” I take the same approach when I go to professional events and conferences. Because what’s the worst thing that could happen? The interaction could be awkward for a minute and you both go your separate ways. There’s almost no downside risk involved with putting yourself out there, and unless the other person is a complete asshole, they’re only too thrilled to meet someone new.

    • Hey Gasper, you make a really great point. I know I’m sometimes afraid to reach out to total strangers because I wonder “Why would they want to talk to me? They don’t even know me.” But if I flip it around and think about what would happen if someone who was genuinely interested in what I do asked me for my time, I would be happy to share what I know. Bearing that in mind, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by your 75% success rate. Thank you for sharing your experience with the NY search for opportunities, and I hope it continues to serve you well! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Networking: Getting started (Part 2) « What do I do with my life?

  3. Pingback: Networking: Getting Started (Part 3) | What do I do with my life?

  4. Pingback: How to answer the question “What kind of job are you looking for?” | What do I do with my life?

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