Networking - Make the Most Out of Your U.S. Experience
6 minute read
What is Networking?
Networking is forming relationships with other people in your field or people who are doing similar things as you. Successful networking allows people to meet you, learn about your knowledge, skills, and abilities, and fold you into their contacts. Your network can help you learn how to advance your career path or even find a new career path.
Networking is an exchange with others - you’re not simply accumulating people. Therefore, you should remember to focus on what you can offer others as you grow your network, not just how they can help you.
Why is Networking Important?
Networking increases your exposure and builds your personal brand as more people learn about you, your skills, knowledge, and passions. Increased exposure makes it more likely for you to gain professional development and internship opportunities and to be considered for leadership positions.
Networking also helps you gain first-hand industry advice. Your network can share advice and experiences that you won’t learn from a textbook and provide insight regarding how to get your foot in the door after you graduate. In fact, studies show that up to 80% of jobs were found via networking!
It’s not necessarily what you know but who you know. And the more people you know, the more resources you’ll have when looking for an internship or seeking career advice, letters of recommendation, and information about future career paths.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.
1. Be Prepared
Prepare your “elevator pitch”: An elevator pitch is a short description that includes your experience, skills, and future goals. The key is a quick delivery, so in the time it takes for two people to ride an elevator together, you should be able to clearly articulate what you do.
- Write out your pitch and practice so that when the time comes, you can make a confident and natural delivery. For more information on delivering an effective elevator pitch, check out this video.
Business cards: Business cards still hold a special place in our technology-dependent society. They are more than just a way to exchange contact information, they help you get your name out there and establish a connection with a potential important contact.
- When you give out your business card, be sure to ask for a business card in return!
- If you do not receive business cards at your internship or training program, you can print your own personal cards that simply list your name and contact details so that you will have something you can give to people to make it easier to keep in touch.
- Doing a Google search for “free business cards” will provide you with plenty of inexpensive options. The following websites are a great place to start to create a personal business card:
2. Connect with people relevant to your area of interest
- LinkedIn is the ultimate social media platform for networking. Most employers use LinkedIn as a recruitment and hiring tool, and students and professionals use LinkedIn for their job and internship searches.
- If you do not have a profile yet, you should create one immediately. If you already have a profile, assess your level of activity and think about ways to become more active. The more active you are, the more connections you can make.
- Read our guide on how to leverage your LinkedIn Profile.
- Your professors are important liaisons to opportunities, people, and potential career paths. Make sure that while you are in school and have their attention you are making the most of these connections.
- Many schools have visiting researchers or lecturers who might be on campus from time to time. Don’t be shy and introduce yourself to these contacts!
- Your university’s career center is another important place to start building networks. They can keep you informed of when businesses might be coming to campus for career fairs and employer recruitment events and may even be able to connect you with alumni who work in your desired field.
- Be proactive and research contacts prior to these visits so that you are prepared to ask impressive questions to make employers remember and want to engage with you further.
- On-campus societies and leadership organizations are another excellent way to build your network.
- Attending sessions and asking insightful questions is a good way to get noticed.
- Most conferences also have built in social events to make sure that people can meet and exchange information and ideas. Attend the networking events like the opening reception, coffee breaks, or happy hours.
- Visit the exhibition hall, where you can meet with exhibitors to learn about who they are and what they do.
- Some conferences also have career centers where you can schedule time to meet with working professionals who can provide feedback and tips for breaking into the field.
- Learn more about the interests and roles of coworkers that you don’t interact with on a daily basis.
- Volunteer for committees or projects where you can work with people outside of your current job function.
- Connect with clients and vendors to learn about what they do and how they got to their positions. .
Image by Chris Potter courtesy of StockMonkeys.com
3. Whenever you make a connection, follow up
Email: Remind the person you’ve connected with of the great conversation they had with you. Follow up with items you promised to share, whether it’s your CV or a link to something pertinent that you discussed.
Connect on LinkedIn: Don’t forget to send an invitation request on LinkedIn! Remember to send a message to the person you’ve connected with and remind them how you’ve met when sending an invitation to connect.
Informational interview: Once you establish a connection with someone, consider reaching out and requesting an informational interview, which is a great way to learn about their role and professional field, as well as to build a relationship. Keep in mind that informational interviews should be used for educational purposes and to build contacts - do not use these interviews to request a job.
Once you set up an informational interview, research whom you are interviewing and what they do, so you can have an efficient and productive conversation. Below are some suggestions for questions you could ask during an informational interview:
- Can you tell me about your career path and how you got to this position?
- What do you like most about what you do, and what would you change if you could?
- How do people break into this field?
- What does a typical career path look like in your industry?
- How do you keep up with developments in your field, and are there any professional or trade associations I should connect with?
Remember to also send a thank-you note after an informational interview thanking them for their time.
- Thank-You Notes: If someone within your network creates an introduction to a company or contact for you, remember to always follow up with a thank you note.
- Handwritten notes are more personal and may be appropriate for brief notes to individuals with whom you felt a connection.
- Email is appropriate when that has been your means of communication with the person you want to thank or when you want to follow up in the most expedient way.
4. Keep an open mind and have fun!
Networking opportunities arise in a variety of situations. Keep an open mind about making new connections, and soon you’ll find that networking is both easy and fun!
Check out our additional resources on how to find an internship to get started with your own professional journey today.
Already have an internship? Sign up for our program!
Signe Knutson worked as an InterExchange Career Training USA Participant Services Coordinator from 2013 until 2016, after spending a year teaching English in China's Hunan province. She has a BA in Asian Studies and Political Science form St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
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