So, are you networking?
This is a question that almost every student I advise will hear. The importance of making connections in the world of work cannot be underscored enough. More than once, a student on the receiving end of my inquiry has squirmed a bit in their chair before expressing a deep-seated discomfort with the whole idea of networking. This often stems from the commonly cited phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know!” Rightfully so, these students feel uncomfortable with the idea that a job might be undeservingly secured by way of a back room handshake rising out of nepotism. In over 12 years at the Career Center, I have found DePaul students to be firm in their desire to earn a position based on their knowledge and skills.
With this in mind, I challenge students to reframe their concept of networking by putting my own spin on the “It’s not what you know…” claim. I ask them to consider that it is indeed WHO you know that allows you to PRESENT what you know. I find this to be a far more accurate way of describing the importance of networking.
The simple fact is that for every available position, employers receive far more applicants than they can accommodate. As such, referrals and past interactions can be welcomed channels for sourcing candidates. Building relationships by way of networking can help you get your application noticed. Being a known candidate or having a trusted colleague speak on your behalf can go a long way when it comes to being on a hiring manager’s “must interview” list.
With all of this in mind, here are a few quick tips for successful networking:
Start with warm connections: It can be more comfortable and fruitful to first approach those with whom you have an existing relationship – faculty, classmates, former supervisors, family friends, and neighbors, for example. As part of your conversations, ask who else they might recommend you talk to. Personal introductions are among the best ways to grow your network!
Build rapport: Don’t start by asking for a referral. Instead, take time to build a relationship with the contact first. They’ll need to get to know you as a professional before they feel comfortable recommending you to others.
Frame it as an opportunity to learn: As you build rapport, relish in the opportunity to gain insight into the profession, field, and industry that your contact has established him or herself in. Conducting an “informational interview” is a great way to get insider information about your contact’s career and organization, and gather recommendations for those who wish to follow a similar path.
Follow up the right way: Following your initial conversation, send an email to thank your contact and connect with them on LinkedIn. Should you come across an article or other resource that might be of interest based on your previous conversations, share it by email.
Finally, when an opportunity presents itself that the contact may be able to help you with, reach out. Thank them for their previous help, mention the connection you believe they may have to the opportunity (e.g. they work with the organization or may know the hiring manager), and ask if they might be open to helping you think through your approach. At this point, they may offer you advice on how to best frame your materials or, if they’re able and comfortable, offer to recommend you.
So, are you ready to network? Consider utilizing the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Program to connect with DePaul alumni who have volunteered to be networking contacts for students, just like you. By jumping on Handshake, you can explore the many alumni who are willing to connect today, as well as search for upcoming networking events and workshops.