Making social connections is key in your professional and career development. This social web (online and in-person) of trusted contacts, i.e. your “network”, gives you an advantage in your career. Your network is one of your most valuable assets.
What is Networking?
The process of creating, building and growing this web of professional relationships is called “networking”. Networking is about cultivating relationships over time. It is the process of making connections with people and gathering new information to expand your knowledge about career options, opportunities, and jobs. In making connections, you are naturally exchanging insights and mutual contacts. You can think of this as asking for AIR (Advice, Information and Referrals). This is valuable at every stage of your career development. Networking is about learning how initiate, engage and follow up on conversations - it is not a one-way street.
Everyone has a network! Think of all of the people surrounding you now across city, school, home, community and/or work environments. You’re already networking every day, even when you ask a friend if they saw any good movies or where she bought those shoes you like! The only difference is that the networking we are referring to here is focused on obtaining advice, information and referrals helpful to your professional career development.
Networking can benefit you in at least three important areas:
- Career exploration - One of the best sources for gathering information when deciding on a major or career direction is talking with people in a role that interests you
- Job search - Consider these facts:
- 70-80% of job seekers find their jobs through social contacts. As few as 20% land their jobs through the traditional "reactive" job search method, namely, applying for posted positions on job boards or want ads.
- Nearly 80% of available jobs are never advertised. You can uncover this "hidden job market" through networking. By connecting with people in your network, you will start to learn more about jobs or opportunities that might not be broadcasted widely. The more contacts you make, the more likely you are to tap into these hidden opportunities.
- Professional development - People who thrive in their careers long-term do so by being well connected in their professional networks in mutually beneficial ways. In other words, they maintain and nourish their networks.
You may think: "I don't have a network." Well, that's not true. Everybody has a network. See prompts and resources below to identify your existing network and take steps toward building new connections:
- Brainstorm all of your social connections. Everyone you know is potentially in your social web. These friends and acquaintances are people you already know. Think of this as your "natural network”:
- Friends, family and relatives
- Present or former classmates, professors, faculty advisors, coaches, colleagues, coworkers, internship employers/staff and supervisors
- Community members, volunteer affiliations, church contacts, neighbors
- Campus student organizations
- Community service opportunities
- Career fairs and employer events
- Informational interviews, to learn more from individuals in potential areas of interest to you (more below)
- Simmons Alumnet Directory - Simmons online alumnae/i community has over 8,000 registrants that you can tap into. Watch for alumnae/i events and other networking opportunities on the Alumnet site
- Professional organizations in your field, where you can attend meetings and meet people
- LinkedIn, the leading professional online network, including the Simmons LinkedIn Group with over 2,000 members (more below)
- Local networking or job search groups
- Everyone you know and meet - broadcast your career interests and goals!
Ask yourself, "Who do I know?" Create a list of everyone who comes to mind. You already have a natural network of contacts, so list your friends, family, professors, work and internship contacts - everybody. Shoot for 50-100 names but be satisfied with whatever you can come up with. Your goal at this stage is to connect with your natural network to discover not only if they have direct advice but also if they know of others more closely affiliated with your interests. You can then let your contacts know of your interests and aspirations. The more people who know about you and what you are seeking, the greater the chance that doors will open for you.
Before you make contact with anyone you will want to think about how to introduce yourself. This can be referred to as an "elevator speech", where you briefly share who you are in 30-60 seconds. This is often tailored to who you’re speaking to. Having your elevator speech prepared will also be useful for unpredictable moments when you are presented the opportunity to connect with someone new, e.g., on the train ride home, at a social function - or in the ride up an elevator!
Informational interviewing is one of the most important networking strategies. An informational interview is a 20-30 minute meeting that you set up with an individual, preferably face-to-face, to ask questions about their career - during this time you can ask for career advice, information, and referrals (AIR). It is not, however, a time to inquire about specific internship or job opportunities!
What's in it for You?
Two important benefits of informational interviews are: 1) that you have the opportunity to get an "insider" point of view on career topics; and 2) that you can get a "reality check" on what you've read, heard or thought. Consequently, informational interviews can be helpful in the process of making informed career decisions.
Preparing for and Setting Up an Informational Interview
Here is a series of steps you can follow to set up an informational interview:
- Decide what job or field of work you want to learn about
- Identify people to interview starting with lists of people you already know who are in your natural network - friends, relatives, present or former co-workers, faculty - the people who most want to help you!
- Research the organization, person, field, industry of interest to you
- Prepare a list of questions for the interview - see CEC's Sample Informational Interview Questions
- Prepare your brief introductory speech to market yourself professionally - see the CEC's Marketing Yourself Professionally: The Two-Minute Infomercial
- Contact the person by telephone, e-mail or letter followed by a phone call to set up the time and place of the interview
- Prepare the same as you would for an actual job interview by dressing suitably, arriving on time, and being polite and professional.
Requesting a Meeting
To request a meeting with a contact, you can ask in-person, reach out through email, or even by sending them a LinkedIn message if it’s appropriate. If you’re emailing or messaging someone, in no more than a short paragraph - say who you are, why your interests connect and why you want to learn from them. You can end the note by saying something along the lines of, “I would love to connect in person or over phone for 30 minutes to learn more about what you do.” Keep your note as brief as possible. If they express interest in meeting in person, offer them a few dates you are available in person that make it most convenient for them. If you meet over phone, make sure to communicate who is making the phone call and what number to reach. Make sure to agree on a time that works best for both of you, and create an appointment in your calendar to stay organized.
Facilitating the Meeting
Since you are the one who initiated the contact, it will be up to you to run a professional meeting with a clearly defined agenda. In order to leverage the limited time you have with the person, structure the flow of the meeting sequentially to optimize information exchange. You are in effect marketing yourself and your ability to run a professional meeting. For meeting guidelines, refer to the CEC's Informational Interview Agenda.
Using LinkedIn and other social media platforms can dramatically expand your networking reach and make it possible to connect with formerly unreachable professionals. Employers are increasingly using social media for recruiting purposes. It is becoming common for recruiters to initiate contact with potential candidates by searching on LinkedIn for people with the qualifications they seek.
According to the "Jobvite Social Recruiting Survey 2011", 89% of organizations will recruit in social networks this year. In addition, 55% will spend more on social recruiting this year and 64% use two or more networks for recruiting. Can you afford not to leverage this new job search tool?
LinkedIn is one of the most influential professional networking websites. It provides you a platform for managing new social connections, job searching, exchanging information, blogging, conducting career research while also demonstrating your professional brand to potential employers. With upwards of 400 million members representing 200 global areas, LinkedIn can expose you to far reaching networks.
LinkedIn's purpose is to leverage your career development process. Since it's "who you know" that counts in networking and job searching, LinkedIn makes professional connections visible so that you can ask the right questions with key people and make clear career and job search decisions.
Below are examples of how to use LinkedIn:
- Building and maintaining your professional profile and online brand
- Building contacts with people with similar interests for career exploration, job search and potential informational interviews and job leads
- Researching companies
- Sharing information and advice with professionals in your field
- Posting references from supervisors, colleagues, and clients
- Finding job openings
- Finding contacts you know at organizations of interest to you
- Recruiting for potential candidates and screening them before interviews
One of the best ways to understand the benefits of LinkedIn is to talk to successful people and ask them what role it has played in their career development. To get started, create a profile on LinkedIn. For more information, check out the CEC Guide for Graduate Students and Alumnae/i to LinkedIn Resources.
Social Media as a Networking Tool
If you want to build more connections, you can also locate people on social media platforms beyond LinkedIn.
Through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you can build your network in three major ways: 1) connect and interact with people you want to meet; 2) follow accounts that market and host professional/community events, and; 3) join online professional development or community groups where resources are posted.
For example, if you attended a professional conference, it’s likely that the guest speakers have their own social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. As you begin to follow and connect with more people through multiple social media platforms, stay curious about their branding and be conscious of your own output. Is your social media content (pictures, articles, writing) aligned with you who are and the social connections that you want to attract?You are always making an impression when you engage, post and act on social media.
To learn more about personal branding and how to use social media tools for networking and job searching, visit our Social Media Career Guide.
Like growing a plant (or garden), building a network requires similar care and attention. Expressing gratitude, passing along resources, and staying in contact are all important ways to nourish each connection in your social web.
Effective networking means building a relationship over time by keeping in touch regularly and exchanging information, advice and contacts. Be sure to:
- Send a thank you note within 24 hours mentioning what was particularly beneficial from your meeting.
- If the individual seemed to genuinely want to help you, set an appointment with yourself on your calendar to make a follow-up call or e-mail to the contact. Then do it!
- Keep your contacts informed. If your original contact referred you to someone who was helpful, send him/her a quick note with that information.
- Reflect on what you learned from the meeting, what else you need to know, and determine a future plan of action.
At the outset it is natural to view networking as an activity that helps you learn more about opportunities for you, whether you are exploring majors, careers, or specific job or internship opportunities. Over time, however, it will become clear to you that networking is indeed a two-way street. Those who help you now may seek your assistance later. It is wise to stay in touch with people and maintain your network. For example, if you stumble across an interesting article that reminds you of your mentor - send it to them! It communicates to them that they’re on your mind, and that you want to stay connected. As stated at the top of this page, your network of contacts is one of your most valuable assets. Treat it with care.
After making a new connection, it is critical to send a follow up thank you note to express appreciation for that person’s time. This can be a handwritten card, or can be sent through email, LinkedIn, or text message, if appropriate. To know what medium to use when writing a thank you note, follow your contact’s lead. If you’re thanking them after a formal interview, it’s best practice to write an email or send a handwritten card. If you were introduced to them at a networking event and they agreed to connect on LinkedIn, then this could be an opportunity to follow up there. If your friend set up a group text message to introduce you to another friend who works at your dream organization, you can text them that you appreciated connecting.
After the Interview: Formal Thank You Notes
After an interview, always send a follow up thank you to an employer 24-48 hours after the interview. Often job seekers forget to thank employers for their time. Those who do follow up not only impress employers with their manners but take advantage of another opportunity to have their name stand out among other candidates. Those who do not follow up risk either being forgotten or, worse, viewed negatively for failing to show continued interest in the opportunity and appreciation for employer’s time.
For requirements for a typical thank you letter, see the CareerSpots Video - Art of Saying Thank You and the companion article Quick Tips: Art of Saying Thank You.
If feel you could benefit from the expertise of a CEC career coach around networking after reviewing our content and resources, set up an appointment online through Handshake. A coach can help you develop your networking skills as well as your job search strategy through networking contacts.
- Article - Networking: Asking for AIR
- Article - Marketing Yourself Professionally: The Two-Minute Infomercial
- Template - Student Elevator Speech
- Article - Sample Informational Interview Questions
Simmons Alumnae/i Resources
- Simmons Alumnae/i & Friends - the focal point online for Simmons alumnae, including news, events, and the searchable database directory of thousands of Simmons alums, Simmons Alumnet
- Simmons LinkedIn Group - all you need to have is a LinkedIn account to join this active group of over 2,000 (and growing!) Simmons alums
Simmons Library Resources
- Networking Career Guide - includes sections on informational interviewing, career fair networking, networking tips, and social networking
- Article - Live Careers, Networking Timetable for College Students
- Article - Campus Career Center, Importance of Professional Organizations...In School and Out
- Video - Vault, How to Stand Out at a Career Fair
- CareerBytes Video - E-mail Etiquette
Social Media Networking