Networking is a critical component of an effective job search. From friends and alumni to potential employers there are many avenues available to grow your network. Many students are already networking, they just don’t know that’s what it is called!
Ready to build your network? Potential connections are closer than you think. Here are the steps to identifying and approaching people who can provide valuable career insights and potential opportunities.
MAKE A STRONG INTRODUCTION
Your networking efforts will involve introducing yourself to many types of people. To ensure that you are efficient and confident in your initial approach, it would be wise to develop an introduction that you feel good about.
- Who are you? Introduce yourself and begin to tell your story. Indicate your school and major or concentration. Include whether you have worked on any academic projects related to the field.
- What sets you apart? Mention internships, work or volunteer experience and two to three unique skills or accomplishments.
- What are you seeking? Help contacts help you. For example, freshmen might be looking for insight into the field, sophomores, and juniors an internship and seniors a full-time job.
BEGIN TO TELL YOUR STORY
Start with a quick introduction. Throughout your career, you will need to tell your story in a variety of ways. Imagine that you were in an elevator with a recruiter and had only 30 seconds between floors to sell yourself, what would you say? You never know when a networking opportunity may arise, so develop this “elevator pitch” based on your introductory essentials. It will be invaluable during career fairs and other large-scale networking events, but will also come in handy during early conversations with a new contact.
Prepare to Connect. Now that you have developed and practiced a solid introduction, there are several ways to connect with people. Make the most of the resources available to you as a Vanderbilt student in the form of our powerful and passionate alumni network.
- Vanderbilt Alumni
- Potential Employers
- Family & Friends
- Professional Associations
There are proven ways to effectively make professional connections, both online and in person. The good thing about the in-person part? It gets you comfortable with one-on-one communication, which will come in handy when it comes time to interview. To help you navigate, we have collected helpful information on how to connect.
INITIAL OUTREACH TO NEW CONTACTS
When approaching new contacts, it is important to be respectful of their time.
- Start with email. Since most professionals are quite busy, email is the preferred mode for initial contact in most cases.
- Be clear. Always indicate how you obtained the individual’s information. Mention your interest in learning about their profession or organization. In your subject, include how you were referred. In the body, ask if they have time to speak to you by email, phone or in person.
- Lend context. Provide a brief overview of your background so that a new contact can best tailor their advice. Do not attach your resume unless you are asked for it.
- Arrange an in-person meeting. See if you can meet at the contact’s place of employment, so you can do on-the-ground research.
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR NETWORKING
Nowadays, just about every individual and organization has a social presence. This makes it a powerful resource for career and network development. While your previous use of social media may have been more — well, social — in nature, that is only the beginning of what these platforms have to offer.
- Join LinkedIn. From alumni search tools to networking among professionals, LinkedIn provides numerous tools for young professionals.
- Build your network as you go. Fellow students, professors, family, friends, and others can be valuable connections down the road.
- Find organizations you are interested in. With minimal effort, you can learn a great deal about an organization’s products, services, news, and culture.
- Identify thought leaders. Analyze the topics and trends. Follow them and make an effort to connect. Be sure you are clear on why you are reaching out.
- Put Your Best Foot Forward. If a potential employer or new connection visited your Facebook page, would you be happy with what they found? Keep your profile and interactions professional. That means it may be time for an upgrade or the removal of certain posts or photos. When connecting with someone you have not met personally, your profile will shape their early impressions.
While powerful connections are often formed on a one-to-one basis, there are many events at the university and beyond that offer fast-track access to numerous potential contacts. From attending career fairs to exploring industry gatherings, putting yourself out there is a smart career strategy.
Understand the Format. Your self-presentation style at networking events should be professional. While there may be instances where a slightly more casual approach is appropriate — such as a student meeting — you want to be remembered for your career-oriented style.
- Dress professionally. Not sure what “business casual” means? Err formal.
- Research first. Before networking events, look into organizations and fields of interest. This drives productive conversations and can impress new contacts.
- Stay in touch. Gather contact information to follow up on later. Ideally, mention something you learned from them to establish a connection when you do.
Start with Vanderbilt. We sponsor events throughout the year, from behind-the-scenes alumni career presentations to networking events. Student groups related to your interests can connect you with other Vanderbilt students as well. Part of planning your career is defining what interests and motivates you.
Expand your search. From company-sponsored meet-ups for young professionals to large conferences and events for specific industries, attend events that connect to your interests. Many conferences have student rates.
A great way to find out if you would like a particular career field or job is to ask someone who is already doing that type of work. Speaking with an industry professional and asking his or her job or industry can provide you with an insider’s perspective, a stronger network, and can sometimes lead to tips about job opportunities.
An informational interview is simply talking with professionals who are currently in occupations or industries you are considering to gain information and insights. This information can be used in choosing a major, exploring career options, or preparing for a summer or professional job search. Be clear with yourself and the professional you are interviewing that the purpose of the interview is not to request a job or internship.
Informational interviews are an important part of career preparation and a good supplement to your academic knowledge because they can provide:
- Real-world information about careers
- Suggestions on how to use your college years to gain experience and prepare for the job search
- A network of contacts for your job/internship search
- Insights into what employers look for in candidates
- An avenue to explore potential job search questions like: “Why did you choose this field?” or “What are your skills for this job?”
IDENTIFYING PEOPLE TO CONTACT
Informational interviews can be conducted with people you already know or with professionals referred to you through informal contacts such as faculty, family, friends, alumni, professional associations, and Career Center staff. LinkedIn, and VUConnect, Vanderbilt’s online database of alumni, are excellent tools for researching potential contacts for informational interviews.
PREPARING FOR THE INTERVIEW
To arrange for an informational interview, contact individuals at least one week ahead of time by email to arrange an appointment. The interview can be conducted in person or by phone, but let the interviewee make that decision. Ask the interviewee for about 20 minutes of their time and always clarify your objective − that you are seeking information rather than a job or internship.
Prepare your questions ahead of time. After researching the interviewee’s particular job and field, you should be able to develop specific questions. Having them in writing and taking some notes is fine.
- How did you get into this career field?
- What do you enjoy most about working in this field? What challenges do you face?
- What are the most important skills/characteristics one needs to be successful in this profession/field?
- Would you describe your career path?
- What do you advise I do while I am enrolled at Vanderbilt to be prepared to enter this field/profession?
- What do you wish you had known while you were still in college?
- What are the most typical entry-level jobs in your industry/with your company?
- What do you look for in entry-level candidates?”
- How do you see your profession/field changing in the future?
- How will these changes impact job opportunities in this profession/field?”
- If you had it to do all over again, what might you do differently?
- What professional association affiliations do you find most valuable and why?
- What advice do you have for someone like me considering a career in this profession/field?
- Would it be okay if I contacted you periodically to get your advice on my career?”
It’s good to have a list of questions, but don’t just conduct your info interview by going through the questions. Listen carefully and respond to what the person is sharing. Ask deeper, follow up questions. Your goal is to connect via a conversation rather than to ask every question on your list.
Preparation, promptness and staying on track are important since the person you are interviewing is doing you a favor in giving of their time. Because you initiated the contact and have some control over how the interview goes. You’ll find that most people love to talk about themselves, their careers, and offer advice.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Immediately following the meeting, take some time for reflection. Ask yourself the following:
- Did I get answers to questions I needed to have clarified?
- What new questions do I have?
- Am I more interested in this career field now that I’ve spoken with an industry professional? Why or why not?
- What’s attractive about this career field and how does it align with my strengths?
- What gaps do I need to fill in order to be a successful candidate for an internship or FT role in this industry?
- What strengths and skills did the person have that I need or want to develop?
- What ideas for career development strategies did I obtain?
- Do I need to talk with more people to obtain additional perspectives?
Send a Thank You Note. The most important follow-up to the meeting should be a thank you email to the individual for his/her time and assistance. Some students choose to write a handwritten note and send it via snail mail. Either is appropriate. Just be sure to send a follow-up email promptly. Keep a record of the people you connect with since they are now part of your network and you may want to contact them later for additional advice.
Networking is one of the most powerful tools in career and professional development yet is one of the most overused and misunderstood words in our language. For many Vanderbilt students, it is a mysterious and daunting process. In addition to learning the ABC’s of networking, it can be helpful to understand the role mindset plays in building a robust professional network.
Below are some articles that can help demystify the world of networking and help you move into a more positive mindset. In addition to reading articles like these, you can meet with a career coach to discuss your concerns related to networking and develop a personalized action!