Let’s be real here - most competitive jobs out of college require some type of networking. Unless you’re a killer candidate with serious experience, most students look the same on paper, so the only way to stick out is with your personality. Networking is the perfect way to do so. This is a quick guide on how to network effectively and to make a lasting impact on people you want to work with.
Behind Closed Doors
Within all companies, there’s always a bit of internal communication when hiring new employees, whether you like it or not. Imagine you’ve met someone and began dating this person. You want to obviously impress them, but want to stay within the confines of who you really are - so you work hard to connect with them, develop a lasting relationship, and ultimately progress in the relationship. This person (unless it’s like a middle-school relationship) will most definitely advocate for you to their family, friends, and peers, assuming your relationship is on good terms. Now, if you separate with this person just by saying the wrong thing or doing something wrong, they have the power to spread detrimental information about you to their network. Now, imagine that person is a recruiter or employee at a company you want to work at. Whatever impression you leave on them, they’ll most likely tell someone about it, whether it’s good or bad.
Practice Your Pitch
The most important and impactful thing you can do is be yourself. If you look at the most renowned companies, rarely do they hire straight from an application. There’s some type of personality check, so in order to stick out, you need to crush the interviews, as well as make internal connections and have people inside the company with power advocate for your employment. Obviously, you need to have both the academic and skill qualification (a software engineer recruiter will not hire someone with no software engineering experience), but after that, you need current employees to push your resume forward.
Getting Foot in the Door
So, how do you get the opportunity to communicate with these employees in the first place? It’s sometimes easier than you think - use the tools given to you. If your school has an alumni network, see if there’s any currently alumni that work at the company you’re applying for. An alumni from the school you attend is most likely more than happy to talk with you and connect you with other people if they deem necessary. Another great way is to search your connections and their connections on LinkedIn. If you manage your LinkedIn well, your connections should be willing to connect you to others at the company you’re applying for.
Now, once you get a connection or two, send them an introduction email briefly explaining who you are and if they would offer a few minutes of their time to chat about what they do and how the hiring process goes. Immediately after sending that email, brainstorm a handful of personal questions regarding the things that matter to you. For example, I personally want to learn more at the job I’ll be working at, so everyone I network with, I ask about the opportunities the company gives to learn something new and how easy it is to manage that learning. Through this, you can decide if this company is right for you, as well as stimulating the other person, since they haven’t heard unique questions such as the ones you come up with.
Unless you’re dedicated, I wouldn’t recommend you write down 10 or so new questions every time you speak with someone - keep a list of questions specific to the company or the department. For example, if a certain company’s business model interests you, ask the person you’re networking with about how they fit into the chain, as well as how they interact. The amount of questions you can ask is nearly endless - and remember, in the moment, if something catches your attention, delve deeper into the subject. An example would be if the person mentions a project they worked on in the past; you could ask them about their role, what it was like to see the success/failure of it, how their team dynamic was, etc.
If you’re over the phone, I would highly recommend having a word document or notes of some kind ready so you can record the person’s answers. You want the interaction to flow like a normal conversation, but have a place to write something down ready just in case they mention someone you could talk to, suggestions on recruitment, or anything that could be important in the future.
If you’re meeting in person, you can bring a notebook and such, but try to limit your use of it to contact information and things they mention to write down. Focus on connecting and just having a simple conversation. After the fact, jot down some of the main points you learned from your meeting, then take a minute to reflect on how you’re going to use that information to optimize your next resume, practice for the interview process, or fill out your next application.
Let’s recap what the main purpose of networking is in this light - to connect with someone that works at the company you’re applying to in order to learn more about the company and what the specific person does. You want a job at a place that’s a good fit for you. Think hard about the five things you want in a job, and have those be the underlying points you use to figure out if a certain company is for you. You may come to realize that the company you’ve fathomed working for your entire adult life isn’t what you thought it’d be, so you’re saving yourself the time and effort of applying, working, and realizing it later on.
Finally, once you begin to wrap up the conversation, regardless of however long it is, remember to thank the person, both in person and over your point of communication with them, whether that’s in a LinkedIn message or email. Reflect for a second on how you thought the conversation went and if you think that person would advocate for you internally. If so, then it was a success, but if you’re unsure, think about why they might hesitate to refer you. Use lessons like these to improve and really nail down who you are. A great place to practice this with is when you’re out meeting new people, whether that’s at a party, networking event, or career services consultation. Figure out a few key questions you can ask to learn the most you can out of a person. Use these - and the answers - to build strong relationships with people both in your personal and business lives.
There you have it - networking seems like a daunting task, but just be true to yourself and prioritize what’s meaningful for you. If you’re looking for more help regarding your resumes, check out our service at backlightresumes.com - we use cutting-edge artificial intelligence to optimize bullets and deliver impactful resumes for a fraction of the price of other competitors. Best of luck on your networking and recruiting efforts! Stay in there - amongst the declined offers, long strings of emails, and countless interviews, will be a great opportunity to learn and grow.