More specifically, networking can help you:
- Build confidence in communicating with others
- Learn industry trends and professional vocabulary from practitioners
- Explore industries through an insider’s perspective
- Identify skills and experiences of successful professionals
- Develop personal criteria to make choices about careers
- Improve interview skills through professional conversations
- Expand your circle of professionals in a specific field or job function
- Learn about job openings with target employers
- Give back by advising others
Networking contacts are everywhere. Some contacts will be people you know well, such as family, friends, former classmates, and co-workers with whom you can interact with ease. With others, such as former employers, referrals from family members or friends, or new business contacts, your interactions will be more formal, in particular if you are meeting them for the first time or if you know them only in professional settings.
As you may have already experienced, you will continue to make new contacts naturally throughout your professional career as you attend conferences, join professional associations, change jobs, take additional coursework, and more. You can also be proactive in identifying new contacts with the help of online search tools like LinkedIn and the alumni directory in B Connect. Learn how.
Networking can happen almost anywhere, and can happen both by chance and by deliberate planning. Networking can occur at a facilitated in-person event, like at a professional association mixer or an alumni happy hour. Check out local calendars, professional organization websites, and the Brandeis alumni events calendar for networking events of interest to you.
Networking can also occur online via LinkedIn or another networking web platform. Perhaps the most common type of networking is an informational interview, which is a meeting you schedule with a specific contact you identify. An informational interview can take place in-person, on the phone, via Skype, or even over email. It can be one of the most valuable ways to network because it gives you time for research and preparation that will help you make the most of your conversation.
Do Your Homework
Research: industry, job function, employer, contact
It is very important to prepare for networking conversations by learning as much as you can on your own about the industry, job function or employer of interest as well as the person with whom you will be speaking. If you already know with whom you are meeting (for an informational interview), be sure to visit the contact’s company website, search for the contact’s name online, and review the contact’s LinkedIn profile.
Prepare questions in advance
Now that you know more about the industry, job function, employer and contact, you should prepare a list of thoughtful, relevant questions to ask. In many networking scenarios, but particularly during informational interviews, YOU will be asking the majority of the questions, unlike a traditional interview. If you are able, it is beneficial to craft them in advance based upon your goals for the conversation. You should expect to have about 10-15 questions ready to ask for a half hour conversation. The questions you ask during informational interviews will evolve based on your level of experience within the field.
Develop a Communication Strategy
Clear, confident communication is key to a successful networking interaction. Whether you’re communicating with someone in-person, on the phone, or online – and whether you’re meeting them for the first time or the 50th – you should be able to comfortably articulate your values, skills, interests and goals for the conversation.
Introducing Yourself: The Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch or elevator speech is a short summary used to quickly and simply introduce yourself and highlight your unique skills and qualifications. The name comes from the notion that the speech should be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator, usually 20 to 60 seconds. It can be a great way to start a conversation, especially with someone with whom you are unfamiliar. You’ll want to practice yours so it is ready to go when needed.
Reaching Out via Email/Phone
The most common way to make the first connection with a networking contact is via email. In some circumstances, as with a family friend or former employer, a phone call is appropriate. You’ll want to address the same things you would in writing. Download Hiatt's outreach template (.doc) to begin crafting your introduction, either via phone or in writing.
In both cases, your initial contact should set the stage for future conversations. You will want to make sure you address the following:
- Who You Are: Provide a brief introduction of yourself.
- Why This Contact: Indicate why you are writing to this individual in particular, including how you are connected (met at conference, fellow alum, mutual friend, etc.). Briefly state your interests or experiences in the person’s field, organization, or location.
- What You Want: Request more information and advice (do not ask for a job or interview). Set expectations - you are initially asking for roughly 15-30 minutes of their time. Include how and when you will contact this person again.
After sending your initial message, be sure to follow up. Usually this involves a phone call to set up a phone appointment or an in-person meeting. Never expect the person to phone you.
Note: Please do not get discouraged if you contact someone and do not hear back from him or her. Even the kindest, most well intentioned people can get caught during a busy time of the year, a crisis or day-to-day craziness. Please know that someone’s failure to respond is not necessarily a negative reflection on you.
Once You Connect
- Be polite! Consider each person you talk with part of an ever-expanding network of contacts, and make a good impression in the hopes that the person will welcome you into their network.
- Dress professionally for your meeting as a sign of respect.
- Come prepared with a list of questions to ask. Here are some samples (.doc).
- Really listen to what the person tells you. Although you are actually in charge of the interview, you should be prepared to talk half of the time and listen the other half. If the person wishes to talk more, you will know that immediately. Just be prepared with things to talk about and have solid questions.
- Be prepared to talk about your interests and experiences – your contact will surely ask about them.
- Take notes. While it is important to maintain eye contact during in-person meetings, taking notes also demonstrates interest in what the person is saying. Make sure you write the person's name and the date on your notes so that you can refer back to them, either for your own purposes or when having a follow-up conversation with that contact.
- Keep the conversation relatively short. Respect that the other person has many demands on his/her time. If they are available or wish to give you more time than you have requested, they will let you know. Be aware of the time that has passed and when there is a break in the conversation near the end of the time you requested, thank the person and politely end the conversation. If you are meeting in person, ask the person for a business card so that you can send a thank you note.
Managing Networking Relationships
Show your appreciation
Immediately following your interaction, you should send a thank you note. This shows your contact that you are appreciative of their time. Learn more about what you should include in your thank you note.
Follow through on next steps
Reflect on the conversation. Go back over your notes to make sure the information is clear. Also, make note of any impressions you have from the conversation. Ask yourself:
- What did I learn from this interview (both positive and negative impressions)?
- How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
- What more would be helpful to know?
- What plan of action should I now take?
Also, be sure to contact any additional people referred to you by your networking contact. Within the first few sentences, mention your mutual connection as well as any particular reason why your original contact thought this new person might be helpful to you.
Recognize when and how to keep in touch or part amicably
Not all networking relationships will endure. This is perfectly normal and expected. If you feel that the relationship is no longer beneficial to you or your contact, or that you’ve reached your anticipated goals, you should simply part amicably, politely, and professionally. You may always return to these conversations, if desired, in the future.
You’ll want to stay in touch with others as these relationships may lead to future job referrals, letters of recommendation, and/or additional contacts.
In most cases, it is important to keep your contacts informed. A simple email to check-in or update contacts is appropriate. If someone recommends an additional contact that was helpful, let your original contact know. Likewise, if a particular resource or research avenue was fruitful, share the good news with your contact and thank them again for their recommendation. Networking contacts - especially fellow Brandeis alumni - are often sincerely interested in helping and are curious about what ultimately happens in your career and academic adventures.
Networking is a two-way street. You never know when someone may seek out your insights and advice in return. The Hiatt Career Center encourages you to find time to share your resources, contacts, and information with other networkers - especially current Brandeis students and fellow alumni - as you progress in your career. Learn more about opportunities to help fellow Brandeisians with their careers.