Professionals often talk about the importance of networking, but the act of networking itself can be daunting. Living in a now digital-reliant world, many feel more comfortable engaging with a potential networking contact electronically, whether through formal social channels like LinkedIn or by simply emailing a lead. Networking over the digital sphere, however, means your writing skills will be put to the test; it’s important that you bring intriguing, professional language to the table.
Below are a few different scenarios you may encounter when networking online with professionals in your field, and some best practices to ensure you are making the best impression when doing so.
DePaul’s Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network
Handshake houses our Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) network where hundreds of DePaul alumni volunteer to be networking resources and assist DePaul students and fellow alumni explore college and professional transitions, interviewing best practices, life challenges and career options. Although these contacts have volunteered, you want to be respectful of their time by crafting a well-written introduction that includes the following:
- Who you are: Include your full name and major/career interests or passions
- Why you wish to connect: Do you want to learn more about his/her role, company, career path, etc.?
- What stood out from his/her profile: Personalize your request by noting one or two things that really piqued your interest in the volunteer’s profile
Your message doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it should include each of the above components. Afterwards, request 15-20 minutes of their time to either speak with them in person or over the phone; this way, you have set the expectation that you don’t intend to take too much of their time, which may encourage a quicker response. It can be much harder for a contact to set aside 30-60 minutes without advance notice.
The thing to remember about the ASK network is that these alums have all volunteered, so you never have to feel intimidated or uncomfortable reaching out to them.
The most popular channel that students lean on to seek potential networking contacts is LinkedIn. The good news is that it’s very easy to make new connections on LinkedIn; simply click “Connect,” and a potential new contact awaits. However, if you don’t take the time to personalize your connection request, you’re less likely to be accepted into someone’s network.
The best thing to do is review a potential contact’s LinkedIn profile before you send him/her a request, and try to identify one or two things you have in common. Maybe you share the same major, or perhaps you were both involved in the same student organization; mention this in your invitation request. If you’re reaching out to someone you don’t know personally, he/she is much more likely to respond if you identify some kind of shared experience or, at the very least, a reason why you want to connect with that person. What not to do? Send a blank invitation. Anyone can do that, but most professionals don’t want to accept just anyone into their network.
Once you’ve established a connection with this person, consider sending a lengthier introduction inquiring about his/her professional background. From there, simply follow the steps outlined above—the same rules that apply to the ASK network also apply here.
There may come a time when a friend, professor or advisor will refer you to a contact at a company you’re really passionate about. These interactions may feel a little more intimidating, but many of the same rules apply:
- When reaching out via email, be sure to introduce yourself and clarify your reason for writing.
- You may want to look them up on LinkedIn to see if there are any commonalities you can refer to, or research the company website in case they’ve included a bio.
- Most importantly, you want to be extra careful that you communicate with referrals professionally, and that you take the time to follow-up with them if they agree to do so.
In these instances, it’s not just your reputation on the line but that of the friend, professor or advisor referring you, so it’s especially important that you be mindful of any and all communication you have with these contacts.
Steps to Take Right Now
It’s always beneficial to begin seeking networking contacts through ASK, since these are people you have something in common with already (specifically your DePaul experience), and they have already volunteered to assist you! You can also meet with your designated career advisor to identify potential leads through ASK, LinkedIn and other industry-specific channels. Finally, we’re always happy to review any email communication in advance; simply email your advisor with the text you want to send to a potential contact, and we’ll help you to put your best (e)foot forward.