If I’ve learned anything in my first year of full time employment, it’s relationships matter. Yes, the other stuff is important too (like actually being good at your job), but networking is the crème de la crème of a successful career. Don’t know how to start networking? Here’s a top 8 (anyone else automatically think of Myspace?) list of things to follow.

Brainstorm

Think of people you know in your career field (or the field you want to be in!) It could be a family member, a friend, a teacher, a friend’s friend, anyone you can think of. If you can make a list of 5-10 people to contact, that’s great. But really, you only need one person to start the process.

Reach Out

Contact the people on your list by calling or emailing them. Ask them if they would have time to meet you for an informational interview. Offer to go to their work or near their house. If they aren’t able to meet you personally, a phone conversation is always an option. You want to make sure you are making it as easy as possible on them.

Fair warning, people are usually quite busy working and you may have to email or call the person a few times before you lock something down. But beware; there is a fine line between being tenacious and being obnoxious, especially during an interview.

Prepare

Assume you will only have 15 minutes to talk. It’s possible you may luck out and have much longer, but you should go in thinking you only have time for specific questions. You should have some general questions (i.e. how did you break into the field, could you look at my resume and cover letter), and your specific “ask” too. Think about something they could potentially help you with. They may say no, but you’ll never know unless you ask!

The Interview

Show up early! Dress professionally. Bring a pen and notebook so you can take notes during the interview. 

Remember, the point of your meeting is to listen to the person and take in their knowledge. Don’t interject them or finish their sentence. Ask them your question, then sit back and take notes.

The Ask

Remember your prepared asks, but the most important ask is: Can you refer me to a few other people I could also speak with? This is the key to expanding your network. Every time you meet someone, you should always ask him or her to connect you to someone else.

Follow up

If possible, send a handwritten thank you note to the person. A toddler can write an email these days, but if you take time to handwrite a thank you note, you will impress someone. Our generation thinks of handwritten letters as archaic, but this can help you stand out from the crowd. If you think snail mail is too slow, send a thank you email. Thank them for their time and mention something specific you learned. If they haven’t already, remind them to connect you to one of their colleagues.

Spreadsheet

An old senior colleague of mine taught me this trick and it’s made a huge difference in my networking skills. Create a Google Doc where you can track all of your networking meetings you’ve had. Feel free to tailor the tabs to your liking, but mine are the following:

Name, Company, Email, Phone Number, Date of Meeting, Location of Meeting, Notes 

Repeat 

Continue interviewing like this even while you have a job! You never know who can help you later in life. Make sure to also keep in contact with your network. If you get a promotion or move jobs, let them know! You may feel like you’re bothering them, but it’s just one email, and if they think you are annoying- they will just junk you. No harm no foul.

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