Launching a career straight out of college is … what? Overwhelming? Daunting? Frustrating?
None of those really seems to cover it.
One major obstacle is that you don’t know anyone in the business yet, and it’s hard to know how to stand out.
I believe strongly in the value of networking, but it’s clear that some recent graduates have not been taught how to network effectively and therefore stand to gain very little from it.
So, whether you’re a new graduate or just looking to widen your network, here is some advice stemming from my best and worst networking meetings:
- Have a purpose. What do you want to get out of the connection? Is it a job, an introduction to someone else, or to learn more about industry trends? A clearly stated purpose will make the best use of your time together and will help the executive understand how they can help you. Come prepared to ask meaningful questions that will help you achieve your purpose. If your primary purpose is to tap the executive’s network, be prepared to ask them for introductions. If you know of a mutual connection, be prepared to explain why you’d like to meet their connection. Use LinkedIn to determine where useful connections exist, and then go for it. If everyone you networked with introduced you to at least one other person, think about the potential reach and impact on your career path.
- Do your homework. Before the meeting, research the person to understand as much as you can about them. You can learn a lot about a person from reading the articles they’ve written, reviewing their LinkedIn profile or even asking a common connection for background information that might not be readily available online. Being prepared will lead to better questions and a more engaging and fruitful discussion.
- Find common ground. We are all human beings and seek to connect with others who have interests in common. I love hockey and love talking about it. I also love birds, which my colleagues mock me about, but I will never pass up the opportunity to talk about my backyard hummingbird feeders. Finding common ground with the executive will make you more personable and memorable, both of which are important foundational elements in any professional relationship.
- Instate a no-jerk rule. If you do enough networking, you’re bound to run into the executive who is dismissive, rude and otherwise unhelpful. It might sting at first. Don’t sweat it, and never burn a bridge; instead politely thank them for their time and move on. Plenty of executives are eager to lend a helping hand; invest in those people for networking purposes.
- Keep in touch. In the first meeting, ask the executive if you can stay in touch and keep them updated on your progress. If they oblige, send them periodic updates about your internships, new jobs or latest projects, or just share an article you think they’d be interested in reading.
Ted Birkhahn is co-founder and president of Hot Paper Lantern.