Networking: the word sends shivers down the average student’s spine. Meeting and greeting can be scarier than getting your wisdom teeth pulled, and at least then you have some novocaine. Schmoozing comes naturally for some, while others still struggle to gracefully promote themselves without sounding like a doofus.
Whether you’re out to get an internship, job or just meet a few people who are in-the-know, being able to effectively network is the key to getting what you want in your career. Actual skills can be rendered meaningless without the social power to break into the industry to use them.
The First Impression
Confidence is the root of all success, said Corinne Snell, director of Student Professional Development in the Fox School of Business.
Potential employers do judge books by their covers – and if your cover is looking shabby, you’re going to get tossed in the used book bin.
“It’s that impression you’re creating,” Snell said. “If you’re not a people person, sometimes it doesn’t come to people naturally. Can you work and develop these skills? Absolutely. You don’t have to be a super extrovert to be able to initiate and carry on a conversation.”
A firm handshake speaks volumes about a person, explained Snell. Initiating the handshake first shows that you are a proactive person in social situations, which is a trait the contact will see as transferable to your performance in the workplace.
Avoid the dreaded “dead-fish handshake,” a limp hand and lifeless fingers, but don’t press so hard that your handshake becomes the “bone crusher,” Snell said.
Squeeze for three seconds, shake once, look the person into his or her eyes, and, most importantly, smile. No one wants to work with a frowner.
Meeting someone important in your field can be intimidating if you know nothing about them. Just remember that they know nothing about you, either. Snell explained that a simple introduction is all you need to strike up conversation.
“You say, ‘Hi, my name is so and so. I’m a student at Temple University. It’s a pleasure to meet you today. I’m actually interviewing here today for a summer internship,'” Snell said. “You have to initiate conversation without going into what I call TMI: Too Much Information.”
It’s great if you have a lot to say about your experience, but keep the stories about your dog, Sparky, and that time you met (insert famous person’s name here) to yourself. No executive wants to hear your latest fun fact. Encouraging the other person to talk, explained Snell, will get you farther than giving them a verbal rundown of your resume
“People like to talk about themselves. Ask them questions like ‘Oh, how long have you been working at company X? How did you decide to get into that field? What advice do you have for a recent grad?
“Asking them questions makes them talk about themselves, but makes them think you’re an interesting person because it engages them in conversation,” Snell said.
Don’t let the conversation drag on, either.
At the appropriate moment, shake their hand and thank them for talking to you. Then comes the important part: asking for their business card. Ask casually. Maintaining an aura of confidence is better than seeming too eager or desperate.
“At the close of the conversation, you could say, ‘I really enjoyed our conversation, is there any chance I could get your business card?'” Snell said. If the person doesn’t have a business card with them, it’s not inappropriate to grab a piece of paper, or even a napkin, to write their contact information.
“Just be sure to ask, ‘Is it OK if I follow up with you?’ Or, ‘Is it OK if I send you my resume?'” Snell said.
Keeping in Touch
So you’ve broken the ice and made the contact. While you don’t want to appear too eager, networking isn’t like dating, Snell said. In other words, don’t follow the three-day-wait rule to call, she said.
“That three-day rule may apply for dating,
but might not necessarily apply [in this situation],” Snell said. “If they are asking for any kind of information from you, such as sending a resume, I would do that in a day or two.
“It’s happened to me; I’ve talked to students and they’re like, ‘Oh I’ll send you my resume’, and then I get it in a week. To me, that’s kind of like, ‘OK, they’re not too ambitious.'”
It’s important to keep in touch with everyone you meet, because you never know when that contact may come in handy. Even if you aren’t sending them your resume, it’s appropriate to keep in touch via e-mail. That way, they won’t wonder who you are if you happen to make contact later on.
“If there’s something in common that you’ve discussed, maybe about a particular topic you were discussing, and you come across an article related to that, you can send a little link [to their e-mail] and be like ‘Oh, I just stumbled across this article and it reminded me of our conversation a week or two ago.'”
Schmoozing doesn’t have to be a struggle for success, and it doesn’t have to be a chore, either. Remember that it’s not what you know, but who you know, that matters
in the end.
Sammy Davis can be reached at email@example.com.