I have been inspired by some of the interns I am working with to write a blog entry about networking. (I have to admit that recently my blog posts are inspired from ideas they tell me to write about.) So thank you to all of my FRBB interns who have contributed to my writing!
As part of our internship program, we had networking training and then participated in a networking session. It was set up like speed dating. You have six minutes to talk to a person until a bell rang, indicating that you should move onto another employee. I have participated in a structure similar to this before. In the other case, there were different industries at a networking event including Public Relations, Advertising, Television/Film, Journalism, etc. All of the companies were color coded depending on the industry they were in. You have 20-25 minutes to sit at a table with other students and talk to the companies in whichever industry you picked. Then, after the time exceeded, you switched tables to talk to a different company. I find this technique extremely effective, especially for people who are not as confident or experienced in networking. Even though I have experience in networking, I thought this set-up was extremely effective and creative, and I enjoyed having the chance to talk to representatives from the companies without feeling that I was taking too much of their time away from others.
During the training that we had, I was reminded of a couple of networking stories that I have heard over the years. One case is networking through Twitter. Many people do not understand the value of Twitter, but networking is a key to this program. When a person posts a story, whether a news article or his or her blog post, others will see this person’s writing. The news articles and short comments on them show a person’s point of view. A blog post is an instantaneous writing sample for potential employers. I am following and being followed by recruiters on Twitter who are able to have a firsthand view into my personality and knowledge on subjects. If someone finds my tweet interesting, they can copy it while giving me credit for it (retweeting or RT), and in this manner, others, whether employees or friends, are introduced to me. It is networking at its best, and I have seen it develop into job opportunities for some and simply connections for others.
Many issues were brought up at the networking training that have become second nature to me. However, I was reminded of concerns people may have through particular questions. How do you avoid the impression that you are using someone for a job? How do you offer help to a person who may potentially help you when you are only a student? How do you figure out someone’s interests? How do you keep a conversation flowing? How do you remember all of the people you met? How do you keep in touch with people, even a year or two after you have met them? How do you stand out at a networking event or career fair when there are many other people with the same intentions and possibly similar resumes as yourself? These are all concerns of students and even adults with employment experience (especially with the economic situation now). I went to a networking event in December, and other adults were networking next to me to try to find jobs after being released from their current job. My opinion is simply, if you can keep a conversation going with a friend, you can keep a conversation going with someone new. Your friends know a lot about you, but you can always find topics to discuss with them. So, a new person who does not know anything about you can learn a lot from one conversation. The conversation does not have to be longer than 15 minutes. Think about how much can be learned about another person in 15 minutes. Where do you go to school? What are your career aspirations? What do you do for fun? How do you spend your summers? There are an unlimited number of questions that can be asked and answered. So have a conversation! Talk about yourself! Ask about the other person! The hardest part is not the conversation but keeping in touch.
Some people may take notes about someone they talk to. If you get a business card (which I find shows a person that they should keep in touch), some people may write key words on the back of the business card to remember what the conversation is about. Personally, if you do not remember a person and your conversation, then it was not as memorable as you wanted it to be. Sure, some conversations are more memorable than others. There are definitely particular people that I am more interested in keeping in touch with than others. But you never know who will surprise you. At my first networking event, the one person that I met who I did not think I would ever talk to again became the one person I kept in touch with the most frequently. We have mutually benefited from the relationship, and we continue to speak more than 2 years later. My trick is to immediately write e-mails to the people I meet at networking events as soon as I get back from the event. The conversations are fresh in my mind, and I can remember details to refer to, which will make the other person remember who I was (if I did not stand out as much as I hoped). You really never know when and how a mutually beneficial relationship will be built. And even if a student cannot help out an employer at the current time, you never know when you could be helpful in the future. You may refer a potential employee to them, even if you are not interested in the position. I also keep my business cards in a binder to keep them organized. I can always flip through the binder and send e-mails from time to time to check in with my network.
Keep in mind, whoever is at a networking event EXPECTS to be approached. They know that students are seeking them out for advice and help. If they did not want to help students, they would not attend these events. They bring their business cards for a reason. I built a beautiful relationship with a recruiter when I met her at a career fair. I told her that I would be working in the same city as her in the summer and was interested in hearing more about her experiences because I was majoring in 2 fields that she had experience with (she was in HR for a PR agency, and those are the 2 degrees I am pursuing). I kept in touch, and we ended up meeting up for lunch. I learned SO much from that one lunch with her, and I told her about my experiences at my internship. As she leads the internship program, maybe I helped her by giving potential ideas to utilize in the future. Like I have said, you never know when you are helping another person.
Oh the beauty of networking…