Between 2013 and 2014, I wrote a blog at higher-learning.ca covering a wide variety of student-centric concerns. I have archived some of these posts here since that website no longer exists. For more information on my student leadership experience, please click here.
“For many university students (even professionals), networking is seen as sleazy, try-hard, and fake… just like the cringe-worthy stock photo I used for this article. However, when done properly, networking is fun, natural, and the best way for students to expand their professional horizons and build their careers, especially when between 60 and 80 percent of jobs are filled through informal means and recommendations.
But first, I need to be clear about what I’m talking about when I say ‘networking’:
CRAPPY NETWORKING IS:
- Wandering around a job fair with a stack of résumés
- Going to an event for the sole purpose of greasing palms and finding a job
- Adding people you barely know on LinkedIn to boost your connection count
- Endorsing those people for random skills in the hopes they will endorse you back
GOOD NETWORKING IS:
- Getting a professional’s contact information so you can send them a great business article you mentioned in the conversation
- Offering assistance with a business challenge someone is facing
- Connecting a friend with a job opportunity they might really like
- Introducing two of your professional contacts who wouldn’t have met otherwise
You should be picking up on a theme here.
Bring Something To The Party
Imagine you’re at a fun house party, and everyone is sitting around with some drinks, having a good time. Then, someone walks in, bringing their own drinks, and a few bags of chips for everyone else. “I picked these up at the store,” they say, “and I figured everyone would appreciate it.”
Shortly afterwards, someone else walks in, grabs a handful of all-dressed chips, and sits down in the seat of someone who went to the bathroom. They lean over to someone else, and politely ask if they could snag a beer.
Who are you going to be happier to see? The person who brought chips to the party, or the person that’s constantly trying to get stuff from other people?
Unfortunately, in the business world, young people (especially job seekers) are usually the people trying to bum stuff off of other people, and not the people who supply the chips and dip. I believe this is because, as young people, we don’t think we can actually offer anything of value to professionals in fields we’re passionate about.
What You Have To Offer
As a university student, here are a few things that you have that people in the ‘real world’ probably don’t.
- The time to pay attention to your thriving social network that constantly shares cool content and interesting articles
- The ability to develop relationships with influential professors and career centers in the university
- Knowledge about some hobby, field of study, or technology unique to you and potentially interesting to someone else
- The ability to navigate the internet, smartphones, technology, and social media
- Very talented and employable peers who are looking for a job
The last point might come across as a bit odd – why would you help other students find a job? Because it’s generous and helpful, of course!
Although it might be a bit too generous to encourage people to apply for a position that you’ve got your eyes on, if you happen to run into a company that is looking to fill a position that could be a good fit for someone you know, why wouldn’t you take five minutes to send an email to both of them to make the connection?
This kind of spontaneous (and uncommon) generosity is exactly the kind of thing that will make you stand out from other young people, and you should be helpful whenever you’re able to.
Keep in mind that just because you land a friend an awesome job doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll turn around and help you with your job search. However, if you interact with other people with the intent to learn about – and help – them, you will find that connections (be they personal or business) are easier to make and maintain.
The Two-Step Networking Process
Here’s a tried-and-true process I’ve used to forge connections with everyone from Presidents and CEO’s to Vice Presidents, Directors, and Managers.
After you meet someone, shake their hand, and get to know them for a few minutes. Sometime during the conversation, you should steer the conversation towards how their business could improve. Just go ahead and ask “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in your business today?” Their answers will surprise you, and your capacity to offer solutions or ideas will surprise both of you.
Get their business card (or contact information), and follow up with them. You won’t have a connection without communication. Beyond helping them with whatever you can, send them an insightful article or interesting TED talk that adds value to their life. In other words, bring something to the party. Even if there’s nothing I can actually help with, I still exchange cards and offer to connect them to my university’s career services centre.