During the era of COVID-19, individuals might be seeking out guidance for career, internship, or college related applications. One of the most useful tools to help guide you in the process of applying or opportunity-searching is to network. Speaking to individuals who are already familiar with the field you are interested in entering and goals you are eager to accomplish can help provide clarity. Therefore, the art of networking is something you should familiarize yourself with, if you have not already.
If you’re reading this right now, it’s probably because you might be preparing to enter the workforce, a higher education environment, a program of interest, or maybe just for fun! I am here to share my experience with networking with you and what I have learned thus far. Below I will further explain some facts and myths about the process of networking.
Coming from a modest town in South Texas where everyone is familiar with each other, networking was not something I was born or trained to know. It was not until I attended college preparation programs like the Hispanic Scholarship Fund or National Hispanic Institute where I became familiar with the term, “networking.” Through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, I was able to attain my own personalized business cards and learn about the importance of speaking with experienced professionals.
I must admit though, in the beginning I was scared to interact with people who were older or more experienced than me. I felt intimidated and feared I would say the “wrong” thing, would not live up to the professional’s expectations, or would “mess up” any opportunity I had to gain a valuable resource. However, I realized that the only disservice you can truly do is to be someone you’re not. Being comfortable, collected, and respectful are ways you can remain grounded to a successful networking experience. Think of this experience as speaking to your favorite and most respected schoolteacher, a relative you are comfortable with, or carrying a serious/respectful conversation with a friend. They key factor in networking is remaining comfortable and to avoid pretending to be someone you’re not.
The truth in networking is that there is not a “one size fits all” template to it. My first actual experience in networking occurred the summer before my freshman year, during Cornell’s Prefreshman Summer program on campus. I was walking out of Uris Library when I saw a person struggling to open the door because they were carrying boxes. I offered to help her and we continued to walk down Libe Slope talking about the summer program. I began talking about my passion for higher education and volunteering. It just so happened that she was a rising Senior and intern for the Learning Strategies Center and began to speak about her experiences with the program thus far. We exchanged contact information and to my surprise, at the beginning of my freshman year she asked if I was job searching. I had been applying to other work spaces, and was very excited to apply to the LSC. It has now been ten months that I have been employed at the LSC and have gained professional development skills along with experience in the higher education realm.
This serves as an example that when you least expect it, an opportunity for networking can occur. It does not have to necessarily happen in a professional setting, and it can be as simple as sparking a wholesome conversation in person or through social networks such as LinkedIn.
- You have to validate yourself by speaking solely about your accomplishments/awards
- Limit the time you speak to someone or/and just prepare an elevator pitch
- Quantity over quality (The more people you talk to, the better)
- Professional settings are the only place networking can occur
- If they don’t contact you, take the hint and don’t follow up
- LinkedIn is only for “professional” conversations
- If individuals you reach out to don’t answer, maybe you are doing something wrong
- Being kind, genuine, and empathetic are traits you should not interchange for the sake of talking about your entire resume.
- If the conversation is going well, you don’t have to cut off the other person because you feel networking has to be short. Online, they can last for days or even weeks and turn into a mentorship.
- A few meaningful networks can outweigh having several superficial ones
- Networking can happen anywhere, like in my experience. You do not have to be dressed professionally and at a conference for networking to happen.
- After having a conversation in real life, it can be helpful to send a follow up email thanking them for their time. This can help solidify and keep the connection going.
- Keeping a conversation professional may sound intimidating, and it may hold you back from being yourself in fear of saying the wrong thing. When you hold conversations in real life or online, just be yourself and keep it respectful, kind, and appropriate.
- There may be times where individuals don’t answer back online, but don’t get discouraged. People can get very busy and caught up in their own lives, so it’s not you or anyone’s fault. Send a follow up message and if that doesn’t work, reach out to new people and try again.