Networking Is Not A Dirty Word (Part II)

To further dispel the notion of networking-as-dirty-word, I may be forced to use the F-word. A number of F-words, actually,  none of them unseemly, and all crucial to career success.

Let’s start with Facts of Life. The truth is that we all start our adult and professional lives with different networks in place (in part related to our family, how and where we grew up, etc.), and with different levels of skill and confidence in networking.  That’s just the way it is. But none of us are stuck with that starting point. Those who come into adulthood well-connected are still going to have to prove their ability and worthiness of those connections, and those with talent and fewer connections are going to have to build their networks on their own.

For everyone, the place to start is with those already in your corner: Friends, Family, Family Friends, and (a key resource here at AU) Faculty (both full-time and adjunct).  Get in touch, tell them about your interests, your long-term and/or short-term goals, and see what ideas they have for you.

If that goes well, it will soon be time to reach beyond that circle, to the strangers-to-you they recommend you contact, or to others further afield who may be helpful to you.  At that point,  you can no longer expect contacts to automatically want to help you in your career exploration or job/internship searching. (Not even if you’re talking to your Uncle Fred‘s oldest friend.)

You’re swimming with the big fish now. But don’t panic! This is simply where another layer of “f-words” comes in:  Fact-Finding and Face-Time.

As a university student, you’ve undoubtedly had to conduct some form of research. Now is the time to put those skills to use in service of your career. Interested in a particular industry? Use the Internet to track down more information.  Immerse yourself. Get a sense of what the hot topics are; learn the basics of how the industry works, its jargon, etc.

If there are companies you are interested in, start finding out more about them.  How do they describe themselves, and what do others have to say about them? How large are they, and how are they structured? What kinds of roles do people play within that structure; how does the work of the company get done?

If there are people you would like to get to know, get to know about them. What information does a simple search provide? Where has life taken them, what are their accomplishments, what have they written or spoken about? As you read more about them, ask yourself: what questions might they be able to answer for you about their field, their career, etc.?

One great source of information is LinkedIn, a social networking site that can help you find out all sorts of things about companies and individuals.  You can find out what jobs someone has held before, what titles other people hold at their company, and more. If you have a profile on LinkedIn and have spent some time connecting to your existing network, you can find out if  you have any contacts in common with your target contact, and try to forge a connection on your own, in case no one else has offered an introduction.

With whatever you’ve been able to find, write your target contact a letter or an email, exhibiting some of your new-found familiarity  (without sounding stalker-creepy), and see if they’d be willing to meet with you for an informational interview. (If someone suggested you reach out, or if you were able to find an intermediary by other means, mention that person right off the bat, in the subject line if you’re emailing.)

Prepare yourself for this occasion. If you clearly know the basics about the person and his/her company, and ask intelligent, well-informed, and constructive questions, you will leave a good impression.

If you’re looking for a very particular kind of internship, or you’re a senior or grad student gearing up for the job search, expect to spend a good chunk of time on these kinds of meetings. They are a great way to learn about the landscape of a field, a career path, and/or a particular company, and expand your network all at the same time!