By Larry Jackson, NCA Assistant Director of Student Career Advising, serving students in McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science and the science fields in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
The process of networking in-person can be an anxiety provoking task. Thoughts may arise on what to say, where to start and how to maintain contact. There are several ways to simplify the face-to-face networking process to make it easier for you. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Identify your goal for networking. What is it you are hoping to gain from the networking interaction? Insight into a certain company? More information on a particular career path? Increased knowledge about a certain industry? It is important to consider your goal for the interaction as it will allow you to create questions that align with the information you are seeking.
- Prospect contacts within your field of interest. Several opportunities exist on campus where you can connect with working professionals (e.g. employer information sessions, company meet and greets, and career fairs to name a few). However, there are many career paths that also have networking groups and professional associations where professionals engage with one another to discuss growing trends and initiatives within their field. Joining these groups and associations could be advantageous as you will be able to expand your network, and increase your knowledge base on your chosen field. An NCA Career Adviser can provide more information on networking groups and associations that align with certain career paths.
- Create and share your professional introduction. A strong introduction about your professional interests, experiences and goals sets a positive tone for every networking interaction. Share your name and briefly highlight activities you have been engaged in that have developed your career interests and skills sets. Such activities could include coursework, student group involvement, work experiences, or independent projects to name a few. By discussing your activities, your networking contact will have a greater understanding about the depth of involvement in a chosen career field and can provide next steps on how to achieve your career goals.
- Have 2-3 questions prepared to ask potential contacts. Having a preliminary list of questions prepared can help break the ice during networking interactions. Open ended questions are preferred as they help facilitate a dialogue between you and the contact. Questions like “What made you decide on this career,” or “what have you enjoyed most about your job” are some examples of how you can jumpstart a conversation.
- Be “present” during the networking interaction. Asking questions and providing responses are only two ways to show that you are engaged in the conversation with your networking contact. Demonstrate non-verbal behaviors such as taking notes, smiling, and maintaining consistent eye contact as this will show the other person that you are enjoying the interaction.
- Follow up after your discussion. It is incredibly important to maintain dialogue with your contact after you have both had the opportunity to share your experiences. Ask your contact for a business card and send a follow up email within 24 hours. Share with the contact what you enjoyed most about your conversation, and ask when might be a good time for another discussion. The more proactive you are in maintaining the connection, the more likely your contact will respond and express interest in meeting again.
These six steps can help you get your networking off to a smooth start. To learn more about the networking process, schedule an appointment through CareerCat with your NCA career adviser. We are happy to help!