The Power of Networking

By Anne Marie Gercke

Many students who are currently seeking summer internships or full-time jobs often plop down in my office letting out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve applied to 80+ jobs and haven’t gotten ONE interview!” some have exclaimed. “Is it my cover letter? Is it my resume? What am I doing wrong?”

Believe it or not, this can be a fairly common concern for job seekers, and my first question is always the same: “Well, what type of networking have you done?” The blank stares I get in return usually give me my answer.

Networking – as intimidating and overwhelming as the act may seem – is one of the major players in the game of getting a job. Shannon Kelly wrote a nice post on networking a while back. Think you don’t know any connections in the field you’re pursuing? Sure you do. You’re at Penn! Combine that and the age of drastically expanding technology and the opportunity to network is just a click away. Three readily available databases for you are Quakernet, LinkedIn and the Penn Internship Network. All are free, and can be used to reach out to current students and alumni to conduct informational interviews and establish a web of connections in a particular field. Here is how to leverage each database:

  1. Quakernet: This is our alumni database. Use it to conduct searches using filters like industry or geographical location (among others). Each profile will include pertinent information, such as employment history and the alum’s involvement at Penn, but most importantly, the person’s contact information. You can then reach out to the alum by email, being sure to properly introduce yourself and say where you found his/her contact information, and requesting the opportunity to chat either in person, over the phone or by email about his/her professional experience since leaving Penn. Even though you would never come out and say, “So, hey, how ‘bout a job?” by establishing positive rapport, you can add the alum to your network as a potential contact in the future. That alum may also put you in contact with a colleague of his/hers, who may put you in contact with another colleague, and so forth. You get the picture.
  2. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is valuable for many reasons, but the main two are the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Network (under ‘Groups’) and the Find Alumni tool (under the ‘Connections’ tab). The Alumni Network on LinkedIn has well over 32,000 members – that’s a lot of Penn grads, which means you have a lot of connections! The ‘Find Alumni’ tool also helps you run searches using filters like location, industry, organization name, major, etc. Understanding how to navigate this site to make connections (and to possibly cross check them with Quakernet to gain more information) may seem a little challenging at first, but that’s why Career Services is here to help. Come in for a walk-in or schedule an appointment and we can help you through the whole process!
  3. Penn Internship Network: Surprisingly, I find lot of students don’t know about this database, especially those who have yet to visit Career Services. As many of you know, every year we survey Penn students and ask about summer plans. We also ask if they will be willing to be a mentor/contact for other students interested in the same or similar field. Those who check “yes” are entered into the Penn Internship Network. This database is much more simplistic than the aforementioned systems, but we provide valuable information regarding students who had internships last summer. There are many filters to narrow the search – industry, major, location, job function (the list goes on) – and as a result you can learn a lot quickly. Most important, however, is that the students in the network are typically still on campus, so you can contact them (we also provide the email address) and ask for an informational interview, as well. Students you may unknowingly pass on Locust Walk every day could be your connection to your future! Plus, gaining knowledge from your peers can be a very helpful tool to navigating your own job search.

Once you start building your professional network, applying to jobs becomes more meaningful. Instead of just submitting your application into a company’s database and feeling frustrated by waiting weeks and hearing nothing, you may leverage Quakernet to see if any current alumni work at the company and then contact them before you submit your application. “Hi, my name’s __________ and I’m a <<year>> at Penn. I’m currently seeking employment at <<company>> and will be applying for the _________ position soon. I found your information in Quakernet/LinkedIn/Penn Internship Network and saw you worked/currently work there. Do you happen to have any advice for my application?” It’s helpful to include some information about why you are applying – what excites you about the company and why you feel you are a fit – to establish that positive rapport. By connecting with people ahead of time, you improve your chance of getting noticed. Worst case scenario, the person you reach out to won’t reply; best case scenario, he/she will ask for your resume to put on the hiring manager’s desk (you would never ask for this yourself – however, if the offer does come, take it). Most likely, the contact will give some helpful advice about what may be beneficial to include in your cover letter or skills to highlight in your resume that could help move your application to the top of the pile.

Also don’t underestimate the old school form of networking: word of mouth. A few months ago, I attended a Christmas party in my hometown. I ended up chatting with a girl, Priscilla, who graduated high school with my brother – I hadn’t seen her in years. She told me she had graduated in spring 2013 from Thomas Jefferson University with a nursing degree and was still looking for a job in Philadelphia. I put my Career Services knowledge to good use and asked her questions about how she was conducting her search – when I mentioned the networking piece, she admitted she “wasn’t good at that.” I told her she was networking right then – with me! I also told her that I would put her in touch with my college roommate, now a nurse at HUP, since she’s been in the field for years and may have good advice. Once that happened, my roommate, Laura, put Priscilla in touch with her good friend, a hiring manager at Hahnemann University Hospital, and lo and behold, by mid-February Priscilla had a great job at that very hospital! After months of applying online and hearing nothing, she did a little networking and things moved in her favor in a matter of weeks. Even though every networking endeavor will not have that great of an outcome (because you will have to work for it), it does show that the process works when done right.

So start doing some research on Quakernet, LinkedIn and the Penn Internship Network if you haven’t already! Talk to your friends and family, and ask them to talk to theirs! Don’t be afraid to connect with people, because remember – you aren’t asking for help, you are asking for information, the cheapest yet most valuable job search tool out there!

As always, we are here in Career Services to help with your search process – stop in to see us!


Author: Anne Marie

Anne Marie Gercke is the Associate Director for the College of Arts & Sciences team in Career Services.