Opportunities arise because of who you know. That's why networking is important - no one reaches success completely on their own.
I felt honored to kick-off Northeastern's recent Networking in Action event which gave students the opportunity to practice networking with potential employers and with each other. Networking is critical for success, but it sounds scary and formal and business-y.
Left: Northeastern students and employers networking during the Networking in Action event. Right: Aids for keeping conversations moving.
In reality, you've known how to network your whole life you just don't think of it as "networking". Networking is meeting people and staying in touch. You're networked with your family, friends, professors, coaches, classmates, the list goes on! A network runs off two ‘rules’:
- Rule of reciprocity: If you help someone, they will want to help you.
- Pay it forward
This means your network grows exponentially with each person you connect with. You never know who someone else knows.
During the kick-off presentation we started by discussing networking in general; what it is, where it happens, moved to networking strategy, then do's and don'ts, right down to actual tried-and-true phrases you can use when entering and exiting conversations.
Then we networked.
Northeastern's Career Development team created aids to help keep conversations moving: Each cocktail table had a bowl filled with slips of paper that had a conversation prompt written on it. It reminded me of fortune cookies for networking! This is a fabulous idea for any other schools and organizations hosting networking events - the more comfortable students and attendees feel, the higher the quality of networking.
Throughout the event the students asked great follow-up questions to learn more about how to network successfully:
I don't know anyone in the field I want to work in - how do I start networking?
Before responding I couldn't help but ask "what field are you interested in?" and "what are you studying"? Every time, the answered matched up.
You may not directly know anyone in your field of interest, but a network is about connections. Think of it as a web: each person in your network has a network of their own. If you're one of the students whose major relates to your desired field of work, your professors are the connection point. They may not work directly in the field, but they definitely know people who do.
Treat your professors to coffee (one at a time), go to office hours, talk to them about your goals and ask their guidance on companies to research. I guarantee a phrase similar to "Let me connect you with my colleague…" will come up at least once each time.
I have a hard time remembering names - is it okay for me to take notes during a networking event?
While networking events sound like they're formal and business-y, they're really opportunities to meet people and connect on a personal level. Taking notes will feel awkward, and will probably make others feel awkward. So I have some tips on how to network for you to consider.
I understand where you're coming from - I used to have difficulty remembering names, too. I find that using the person's name in conversation ("Great to meet you, Erica….Now that's really interesting, Erica, how did you manage that situation?"…) works like inception. Not only will it help you remember the names of the people you speak with, it helps them remember you.
In regular conversation we tend to only use names in introductions and if we're trying to get someone's attention. Think about it - do you agree? So when you insert the name of the person you're speaking with, they can't help but pay more attention to you. It makes you more memorable.
I also recommend jotting notes when you move between conversation groups. But don't spend too much time writing in the corner. Note one distinguishing quality on the person's business card so you remember what you discussed or what was interesting about them. This helps you have a more meaningful follow-up.
Where does LinkedIn come into play with networking?
There's no right or wrong answer for this. You may find other recommendations in articles online, or develop your own strategy for leveraging LinkedIn - go with whatever works for you!
I use LinkedIn as a follow-up tool. Within 36 hours of meeting someone that I want to stay in touch with, I will add them on LinkedIn. I always choose to 'add a note' when inviting someone to connect; I typically mention where we met and what I enjoyed about the interaction (i.e. why I want to stay in touch).
I rarely accept invitations from people I haven't met (in person or via phone). My favorite aspect of building a network is being able to introduce people who may be able to help each other. I only connect with people I've met because I want my network to be functional; when someone says "I notice you're connected with so-and-so from Company X…" I want to be able to make that introduction.
What networking questions do you have? Join the discussion with a comment below!