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.

For Winnie

Sometime back in 2007, I was out on the balcony of Cheesecake Factory atop the Macy’s Union Square, eating an early dinner.  Sitting across from me was my mentee Winnie, who was a junior at UC Berkeley at the time, and a friend she had brought along.  Winnie had just landed a summer internship at a large cosmetics company.  I was giving her advice on how to structure succinct yet effective communications, something I had learned during my first job out of undergrad.

“Wow, that’s really helpful.  You should totally write a book on this stuff or something,” her friend said.

It’s now February 2011.  Winnie is still my mentee, but now also a good friend.  In the past four years, I feel like I’ve shared a lot of lessons I had picked up along the way with Winnie, and with many others younger than me.  It’s finally gotten to the point where I repeatedly find myself having the same conversation and providing advice on the same topics, so I guess it is time to write these things down somewhere.

I didn’t come up with any of this stuff on my own; much of what I’ll be writing here I learned from others who were kind enough to share their thoughts and wisdom with me.  This is simply a compilation of advice and guidance I have found useful in my life.  I hope some pieces of it can be helpful to you, too.

Here goes.  For Winnie.  And for you.