What is networking?
Networking is building relationships with others in your area of interest in a way that opens you up to new opportunities. It does not always require a specific goal (ex. to find a job), although this can be one objective of networking. It can simply be about meeting new people that will aid in your growth through sharing perspectives and information.
There are several benefits of networking. An obvious benefit that people often think about is that it can lead to finding a job. While this does happen, there are other important reasons to network:
- Even if you are not job searching, speaking with others who do interesting work can help you learn about possibilities that you didn’t even know existed.
- When you network with field experts, they can provide you with field-specific advice about how to write resumes, what sorts of companies might be hiring, referrals to other contacts, etc.
- You can stay informed about developments in your field of interest.
How to build a network
You can think of networking in two ways: 1) maintaining relationships in your existing network, and 2) growing your network through forming new connections.
Think about all the people you interact with on a daily basis – friends, classmates, professors, supervisors, family – these people make up your immediate network. There may also be people that you do not interact with daily but that are still part of your existing network, including former supervisors, high school teachers or advisers, family friends, etc. Although it may not always seem obvious to go to the people you already know and interact with for career advice, just think about all the knowledge that everyone in your existing network possesses.
It is a good idea to always be working on forming new connections, whether or not you are job searching. Just think – you could connect with somebody now that may have job opening one year later, and by already having a solid connection, you have a head start in your job search.
There are several ways to grow your network:
- Reed has a strong alumni network and is filled with individuals eager to help other Reedies, so this is a great place to start if you are new to networking. Familiarize yourself with the alumni directory in IRIS and the alumni search on LinkedIn. The best way to learn about maximizing these resources is through making an appointment with an adviser at the Center for Life Beyond Reed: https://reed.joinhandshake.com.
- Reed Switchboard is another method of networking with alumni. This does not require writing a formal email or reaching out to one specific individual (see the “How to make an ask” section for more information); rather, you can ask a general question and see who responds. For example: “Does anybody have any recommendations for marketing agencies in Boston that may have internship opportunities?”
- Seeking out organizational contacts
- You are not limited to Reed alumni when it comes to growing your network. If you want to learn more about what it is like to have a certain job, or what it is like to work at a certain company, you can contact people in those roles and ask for advice (see the “How to make an ask” section for more information).
- Becoming more involved in clubs and community events is another great way to network, as is involvement in professional associations (many of which have student memberships). If you want advice on how to seek out involvement opportunities, make an appointment with an adviser at CLBR, and also look for some information on our Communities of Purpose pages. Also keep in mind that CLBR hosts opportunities throughout the year that will allow you to network with employers and alumni, so pay attention to our upcoming events or contact us directly!
How to make an ask
Once you have identified individuals you want to become a part of your network, you can contact them for more information. It is often easiest to reach out via email. Read below for tips on how to do this:
- Your email should be short and to the point, but provide enough context that the person knows why you are writing.
- Introduce yourself, including enough information that makes the connection clear (ex. if you are an English major looking for journalism contacts, it would be helpful to state that you are an English major).
- Indicate how you found their information (Reed alumni directory, staff bios on company web page, etc.).
- Briefly describe your goals and what you are hoping to achieve through contact with them (ex. “I am hoping to learn more about what a career in journalism is like”).
- Be specific about how you want to engage with them – you can ask to set up a brief phone call or you can ask if you can send a few questions over email.
- Thank the person for their consideration of your request.
- Do not email somebody you do not know out of the blue and ask them for a job or for connections. Instead, focus on building a relationship and gaining valuable information, and nurture the relationship so those opportunities can come organically.
My name is Sue Jones, and I am currently a junior at Reed College. I am majoring in English and starting to think about my future, and I am becoming increasingly more interested in journalism. I saw from the Reed Alumni Directory that you are currently working for The Newspaper, and I was hoping I could learn more from you about your career path and what it is like to work for a newspaper.
If possible, I would love to set up a 10-minute phone call with you sometime during the next few weeks so I could ask you some questions. Please let me know if this would work for you, and I look forward to scheduling a call with you.
Thank you for considering my request, and I look forward to hearing from you.
- It is possible that the individuals you contact do not get back to you right away, as they likely have busy work schedules. Wait one week and then follow up with a short and friendly email.
- If somebody responds, respond to them promptly (within 24 hours).
Once you have your contact secured, you can conduct an informational interview. If you are emailing questions to a new contact, it is as simple as writing a professional email with 3-5 questions included. The individual’s response will likely lead to more questions and keep the connection moving forward.
If you are speaking on the phone or meeting someone in person for an informational interview, keep the following tips in mind:
- For phone calls: Pay attention to time zones! If you are connecting with somebody elsewhere in the U.S. or the world, make sure that you both understand what time zone you are referring to in your agreed upon time.
- Always show up or call the person on time.
- If the person calls you, answer your phone by saying “Hello, this is [My Name].”
- Come prepared with questions. The conversation may begin to flow more organically at some point, which is fine. But the individual will expect you to drive the conversation otherwise, so be ready. See the next section for a sample of questions you can ask.
- Confirm the amount of time you have for the call/meeting before starting the conversation, emphasizing that you want to respect their time.
- If meeting, bring a copy of your resume, but do not offer it unless it comes up in conversation.
- Make sure to get the individual’s business card and ask to stay in touch. Ask for their preferred mode of staying in touch (email, LinkedIn, etc.).
- Also ask the individual who are additional people that you can contact for information – this helps grow your network even more!
- Follow up with a thank-you email or thank-you card within 24 hours of your call/meeting.
Sample questions for informational interviews
Avoid asking questions that can easily be answered via the company’s web page or a simple internet search. Instead, think of questions that require a person’s perspective. Here are some examples:
- Can you tell me about your background and how you came to hold your current position?
- What general skills are required for this line of work?
- What specific or technical skills are required in your work?
- What do you like most about your work or the field?
- What are some of the challenges of your job? What are some challenges that the organization faces or that impact the field?
- What is the outlook for entry-level professionals in the field?
- What are the short or long-term goals of your organization or department?
- Are there others in the field with whom you suggest I talk? (If yes, follow-up with “May I say you referred me?”)
- Do you have any final advice to give me regarding a career in this field? What do you recommend for my next step?
Staying in touch
One of the most important aspects of networking is staying in touch with your network, rather than making a connection and letting it fall away. There are several things you can do to stay in contact:
- Connect on LinkedIn and comment on their posts
- Send LinkedIn messages to check in
- Check in at milestones (ex. congratulate them on a promotion or new job)
- If you come across an article relevant to what you discussed during your informational interview, send it their way
- Keep them informed of your progress
It is very important to let people you have connected with know what you are up to. For example, if they gave you advice that helped you find an internship, they would be excited to know that! If somebody was happy to help you at some point in your search, they will be happy to hear updates from you.
LinkedIn is a major way that people stay connected and even apply for jobs. Individuals are often found by recruiters via the information on their LinkedIn profiles, as well. Sometimes employers will look up your profile after you have applied for a job, so it is a good idea to have a strong profile, even if you are not using LinkedIn all the time. The LinkedIn for Students website has some great advice articles about using LinkedIn, and here are some tips we have as well:
- Picture: Use a recent photo of yourself with no other people in the picture. It does not need to be a professional photo – simply have a picture of yourself taken in front of a neutral background. However, CLBR does sponsor LinkedIn photobooths at various times during the year, so follow our upcoming events if you want a professional headshot!
- Headline: This is the line under your name that briefly summarizes you to the LinkedIn community. By default, LinkedIn populates your most recent experience, so if you are currently an Office Assistant at Reed College, it will read “Office Assistant at Reed College.” This is fine if that is what you want it to say, but you can also customize it to be something descriptive for potential contacts and employers: ex. “Aspiring engineer passionate about solving complex problems” or “Reed College senior seeking marketing opportunities.”
- Summary: This is your space to expand upon your professional identity and outline your strengths and goals for future employers. It can be 3 lines or 3 paragraphs, but keep in mind you want the reader to stay focused on your message.
- Fill out your profile as much as possible, filling up as many sections as possible. Use the blue button that says “Add new profile section” to see all the possibilities.
- Experience section: This can include the same points on your resume. However, if you find yourself limited when you are writing a 1-page resume, remember that there are no space restrictions with LinkedIn! Keep it within reason, though, since you want the reader to stay focused.
- Skills and Endorsements: You can use this section to identify your skills, keeping in mind that recruiters using keyword searches may find you via the skills you list. You can also endorse your connections for their skills, while they endorse you for your skills.
- Recommendations: Consider asking a former supervisor or colleague to write you a recommendation to be posted on LinkedIn – this is a great way to showcase your skills and accomplishments.
- Interests: In this section, you can add companies you are interested in that you want to follow, groups you want to join, and schools you have been associated with. Following a company is a good way to get updates on any new developments with them. Joining groups allows you to connect with more people and message people for free. Adding a school also increases the number of people who will show up in your network, enabling you to connect with them.
- Once your profile is complete, connect with people you know (think of the existing network that we discussed earlier on this page). As you meet new people, connect with them on LinkedIn.
- Stay in touch with connections via the messaging feature.
- You can use LinkedIn to find people to grow your network – if you want to know if any Reed alumni work at a certain company, you can use the advanced search feature to find that out.
- You can also look to see if you are connected with anybody involved with the opportunities to which you are applying through using the search feature.
- You can search for and apply for jobs on LinkedIn.