Dr. Esther H. Ra, Career Advisor for Nursing, Education, and Social Policy & Practice
According to Merriam Webster online, it defines networking as: Networking: noun net·work·ing \ˈnet-ˌwər-kiŋ\
1: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business
Here at Penn, we are proud to have in our midst a diverse body of scholars who come from across the globe. It is not unusual to rub shoulders with a student with multi-lingual fluencies or who was born and educated overseas before arriving at Penn. Such students are wonderful assets to our Penn community and we, here at Career Services, have the pleasure of advising them on career-related topics and helping them to navigate the job search, whether it be in the United States or abroad. Many of the questions I often address with our international students pertain to the nuts and bolts of networking, which include: How do I start networking in a foreign country when I don’t know anyone? When and how should I say what I want to say and how should I proceed? Also, students have sometimes expressed self-consciousness in their English language skills when approaching Americans, who may be of higher status or individuals who they have never met. These are all valid concerns and make networking daunting even for a native English speaker, however, they should not deter students from reaching out and making connections with the community around them.
Why is Networking Important?
Why network? Do I have to reach out to individuals I do not know very well and strike up professional conversations with them? The answer is yes. Often, I will hear from students that they prefer not to bother others or be in such awkward situations, however, networking is essential to delving into the hidden job market. Without proactive networking, it is difficult to tap into the stream of positions that never even make it onto an organization’s website. According to LinkedIn, a study reveals that 85% of jobs are obtained through networking1. Many jobs are shared internally first to identify a qualified candidate before being posted publicly. If a qualified candidate is located prior to a job becoming public, often the positions are filled accordingly. Networking is instrumental to obtaining a desired job, so it is imperative to be intentional about reaching out.
The Greeting: Handshake, Eye contact, and Smile
Perhaps, one American civility that may be quite universal in all professional settings is the handshake. Typically, handshakes are used when greeting an individual for the first time and sometimes even thereafter for subsequent meetings. Some tips to remember are:
Be firm. When shaking a potential employer or interviewer’s hand, be sure to give it good shake. It need not be extremely vigorous, however, a weak handshake, often called “the dead fish handshake” can be remembered negatively and leave a bad impression. A firm handshake, one where a firm grasp of the palm and fingers occurs, connotes confidence and ability, while a weak handshake, one where the fingers do not grasp the other’s palm and fingers, connotes introversion and anxiety.
Make eye contact. When shaking an individual’s hand, be sure to make good eye contact. In some cultures, it may be rude to look directly into someone’s eye, however, in professional settings in the US, it is expected and acceptable to meet someone’s gaze, particularly when greeting them for the first time. When speaking, it is also important to make direct eye contact from time to time, to display feelings of interest and commitment to the conversation.
Share a smile. Generally speaking, Americans appreciate neighborliness and conversation. After shaking hands, making good eye contact, be open and share a welcoming smile. A warm smile can go a long way while networking, positioning yourself as friendly and accessible. Such a simple act can open doors for more casual conversations, as well as, light-hearted moments between potential interviewers, which can make the process seem less intimidating.
Take advantage of informational interviews, especially while at Penn. Do take the time to set up informational interviews with professors, colleagues, classmates, and alums. Yes, it takes a bit of legwork to find individuals to network with, but the gains after doing your initial research, will pay itself forward after graduation. Also, so many individuals, such as alums and professors, are very willing to help, one needs only to inquire. Many alums have often been in the same position and have expressed a willingness to speak to current students to help begin their networking journey. Please check out our resources on Penn’s Career website for more information on dos and don’ts of networking: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/networking/howto.php
Resources for International Students
There are several sites I encourage international students to peruse: 1) Penn Career Services: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/
Our website, of course, is chockful of practical and useful information for all students, including international students. The networking section outlines protocols that may help familiarize students with typical American networking interactions. We also have networking tips located in our video archives, which can also be accessed and viewed. 2) Another website that is extremely useful is GoinGlobal: http://www.goinglobal.com/
This is a comprehensive global website that helps the career search by country, profession, and topic.
3) Last, but not least, many of our international students have sought out the help of Marks Family Writing Center on Penn Campus: http://writing.upenn.edu/critical/wc/
The Center is a wonderful place to receive regular help on writing cover letters and any other correspondence. It is always recommended that students, international or not, receive feedback on their resume and cover letter, or any other communication. Of course, advisors in our office are always more than willing to look over your resume/CVs and cover letters. However, if you are not able to get the documents to us in time, be sure a classmate or family member can take a look before submitting an application.
If you are a Penn international student and need any help with career-related issues, please come in and visit us! Allow us to help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters of networking. Penn’s Career Services advisors are here to help. We look forward to meeting with you!