How I Made Networking Feel Good

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Jessica Schneider, CAS ’15

No longer are your qualifications enough. In a tough job market, especially for young people, it’s essential. You likely never met someone who enjoys networking. If name tags, business cards, and forced conversation is unappealing, I’m here to say why you’ve probably just been doing it wrong.

I gave OCR (On-Campus Recruiting) at Penn a first try this past year. It was a total disaster. We stood around with company representatives in little groups, and one eager-beaver asked of questions while the rest of us listened uncomfortably to their one-on-one banter. At some point, I would try to break in to shake the representative’s hand and blurt out, “thank you so much, it was great meeting you!”

This is wrong, I thought. There has to be a better way!

That’s when I resolved use my internship this summer in the U.S. Senate to learn how to network. After all, it’s the honest-to-goodness folks in politics who say: it’s all about who you know. This is what I learned.

Have a goal in mind: Networking starts before you are looking for a job. Building your network, you will:

  • ž   Explore your options in a general field
  • ž   Learn more about particular professions
  • ž   Meet other professionals

I always keep these things in mind, and use them to avoid the scary term “networking.”

Where to start: I signed up for every networking event on my radar—sometimes three per day! Penn has great communities of alumni and organizations like Career Services who put together events and make this easy. Office parties count also. Practice, practice, practice! The first five or even ten events that I attended felt uncomfortable, but eventually I caught on. It’s a learning curve; I recommend that you get this phase over with a.s.a.p.

The next steps: Reach out to people individually. I spoke with my own friends, recent grads, family, coworkers, and former offices first, and then asked for suggestions of people in my field whom I should meet, along with a connection request. Start a running checklist.

About that “awkward”: Do you remember your goals? You aren’t networking; you are exploring, learning, and meeting. Events and meetings are not about you, they are about the person with whom you are meeting and their experiences.

  • ž   Avoid vague questions such as, “What is it like to work at ____?” Instead, ask about their personal experiences, their tricks of the trade, their favorite experiences, their rookie mistakes, them, them, and them. Each person is different and speaks best about her/his own experiences.
  • ž   Do not ask people about advice for yourself such as, “Do you suggest I pursue a law degree?” because only you know what is best for you. Instead, ask about what they did/would do in that situation.
  • ž   Never ask something that you can Google—it wastes both your time and theirs. Instead, ask about their own personal experience with the subject.
  • ž   At events, don’t spend the whole time with one person; that’s what one-on-ones are for. Meet, ask a few questions, and spend some time, but don’t stay for her/his life story.
  • ž   Relax, and smile!

Be outgoing—at an event or meeting, you already know that people are friendly and ready to share. The only way that you can turn someone cold is by dominating the conversation, making it about yourself, or dismissing what they have to say, but these are general rules about being nice.

On following up: Follow up so much that you find yourself sending friends a thank you text after a fun Saturday night. Eventually, this became second nature for me, and now I feel rude if I don’t follow up in a timely manner. It sure comes off rude if I don’t. Typing my follow up in the same language that I use to speak makes this speedy, saying thank you again, what I took away from the conversation, maybe a reminder to send something we spoke about, or perhaps attaching my resume if she/he asked. I never, never, never send form emails. Following up is the Holy Grail, so don’t forget it on the kitchen counter.

Networking can be fun. You’ll meet interesting people, hear fun stories, learn the real ins and outs of a job, and get lots of free hors d’oeuvres! I could not be any more grateful for the opportunity to spend the summer in Washington, DC and take a crash course in making professional friends. Reach out to me any time, and I’ll be happy to tell you more about my experience in learning to network.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.