“Technology is changing, and the world is evolving. I believe that networking gives you the ability to connect with people, build relationships, have conversations, and ask questions.”
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘networking’? Does it make you cringe with nerves, anxious to meet someone new? Does it make you smile with the excitement of making a connection with a stranger?
Whether you know it or not, every interaction you have with someone can be a chance to practice networking. Additionally, networking provides an opportunity to advance your career, establish valuable connections, and potentially land you a job. In fact, “73% of survey participants reported that they had been hired in the past as a result of someone they know making an introduction or a connection” according to LinkedIn. Even in the current virtual environment, “61% of professionals agree that regular online networking can actually lead to job opportunities,” (Marketing Expertus).
If you’re curious to know more about how networking can lead to job opportunities, I was able to speak with Ariel V., a Sourcing Advisor on the Talent Attraction team, who has over 12 years of networking experience. With over a decade of networking, Ariel offered her personal experience with making connections and how consistently expanding her network landed her a job at Schwab.
Ariel’s affinity for networking started when she was in school: “I’ve been networking since I was in high school. I was doing networking more like exploratory conversations around picking a college or what I wanted to major in. So it wasn’t always job-related, but looking back I realized I was networking back then just in a different format. Then when I was in college, I was networking for internships and after college, I started networking for jobs, so it evolved over time.”
1. Start practicing by having mock interviews and conversations with friends and family
1a. Have your elevator pitch ready and come prepared with questions
As Ariel explains how she went about networking, the process may seem daunting. For beginners or introverts, Ariel explains how she’d go about starting the networking process: “It can be slightly more challenging for someone that’s maybe more introverted. It’s a skill that can take practice. I think one thing that could be helpful to start thinking through is doing some kind of mock networking, having some of those conversations with a friend or family member and just thinking through some questions, practicing your introduction, your elevator pitch, you know, here's who I am and why I asked for some of your time - practicing, that helps.”
2. Reach out to your alumni network for common ground and shared connections
2a. Once you’re comfortable, start venturing out to cold introductions
“I would say the best place to start, in my opinion, is with your alumni network. When you can utilize your alumni network or your college career office, for that contact information even if you graduated 10 years ago, it doesn't matter. That’s what the alumni offices are there for. Reaching out to someone where you already have a connection, like a shared college, to me just takes some of the awkwardness away and then that's a good place to start.”
If you’re feeling comfortable enough after doing mock interviews and reaching out to an alumni network of some sort, Ariel suggests practicing cold introductions: “As you get more comfortable starting to reach out to people and building confidence, you can reach out to a total stranger that you don’t have any connections in common.”
3. Be prepared: Create a list of questions to ask and have handy throughout the conversation
Since networking is a two-way street, I asked Ariel what individuals can do to ensure that the networking experience isn’t transactional. “I think when you approach networking as a relationship-building practice, you’re giving your relationship and a part of you when you have that conversation. You don’t know what you may get out of that relationship down the road and they don’t know either. I always make sure I’m overly prepared so that I’m not wasting a second of their time and I’m just very grateful. Following up and staying in touch most of the time people appreciate, so I think you don’t have to have something tangible to give back. Just be open to developing a new networking relationship in general.”
4. Stay organized: Invest in a tracking system or tool that helps keep your outreach in order
Between reaching out to individuals and making new connections, Ariel mentioned that a helpful way to stay organized is utilizing a tracking tool of some kind: “Another practical tip is to keep an Excel sheet or a journal to keep track of everyone you reach out to. I keep a folder and it has notes of everyone I’ve ever networked with, dates, times, who I reached out to, what we talked about, what the follow up was, who they said they could introduce me to, so I was able to keep track of that somewhere.”
5. Follow up: Express your gratitude through a thank you note
Tip: Include something personal you talked about or a piece of information you learned
Once you’ve done your initial outreach and have met the individual you’d like to network with, Ariel went over the next steps: sending a follow-up.
“The first, most immediate piece of follow-up is a thank you email the same day – do not forget about that. That’s the first step of just being truly appreciative of the time they took, and I always like to note something in my thank you that speaks to something I learned. Another piece of the follow-up is if they seem like someone that is in an area you might like to be in in the future, ask if they have anyone else in their network that they think might be open to speaking with you.”
An important note to remember is that you may not mesh with every person you connect with, and in this case, Ariel mentions, “if you don’t have a deep connection or you don’t feel like you would want to pursue a career in that space, send your thank you and follow-up and that’s all it has to be. However, the ones that you feel are either offering additional help or seem like they’re in a role that you’d want to be in someday—those are the ones where it’s worth it to me to follow up and stay in touch.” This can include sending someone an article you read that reminds you of them or you think they’d be interested in. Lastly, make sure your follow-up is prompt and you continue to keep track of all your connections.
6. Keep an open mind and lead with curiosity!
As you move forward in your own networking journey, Ariel offered some tips she has learned throughout her years of networking and why everyone should network at some point in their life: “Approach the art of networking with curiosity and an openness to learn. I think this sets you up for success and it also makes you come across as someone who’s just genuinely curious and wants to gather information. Be open to whatever you can possibly learn from the conversation and come prepared with questions as it really is something to take seriously. The beauty of networking is that you don’t know what you don’t know – you don’t have any way to know who you are going to be introduced to or reached out to and who you'll build a relationship in the future. You don’t know what you’re going to learn from that person. The benefit comes from taking the steps to start the process of reaching out to people and building relationships…you just have to take that first step.”