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Ten Tips for Improving Students’ Networking Skills

by Maria Minsker | Cornell University

F Posted in: College P Posted on: March 21, 2012
Screen shot 2012-03-21 at 8.42.08 AM Image courtesy of Flickr, Victor1558

Great networking skills can mean the difference between landing a dream job after college and graduating without an offer in sight. Your university likely does some of the networking work for you, setting up alumni meet-and-greets and other social events, but it’s still up to you to make the most of those opportunities and land some useful contacts. Here are ten tips to make the most of each networking opportunity and secure a lasting relationship with the people you meet.

1. Dress For Success

No matter how casual an event sounds, try to look your best. Your school may be setting up a quick breakfast Q & A with a successful alum, but that doesn’t mean you should show up in your sweats. They already know you go to the University of Wherever You Are, so leave that college sweatshirt at home. If it’s a fairly informal event, there’s no need to dress up in a fancy suit or your favorite interview blouse, but do throw on something presentable. Skip the jeans if possible, and make sure to iron your clothes.

2. Bring Your Resume

Always have a few copies of your resume with contact info with you when you attend networking events. You may need to kill a tree or two, but having a copy for every potential contact will prove very helpful. If nothing else, having a copy of your resume will raise the chances that these important people remember you when you contact them in the future and who knows, maybe they will hand it over to the HR department and put in a good word for you. If you know whom you’ll be meeting in advance, try to personalize your resume to match the needs of the company each person represents. This, too, will raise your chances of being remembered and hired.

3. Prepare An Elevator Speech

During busy networking events, chances are you won’t have much time to talk to each person. You need to make sure you’re packing a punch into the few moments you have with the person of interest, so think of the things you’d like to say in advance. An elevator speech is a great way to do this. Just think of your most important accomplishments and your best traits, and put together a quick one to two minute speech — something you would say if you were on an elevator ride and were trying to introduce yourself before you reach your desired floor. Write your speech down and read it over a few times. Don’t memorize it, because you don’t want to sound too rehearsed, but make sure you know it well.

4. Ask Questions

Depending on the amount of time you have to talk to a potential contact, try to ask questions, especially open-ended ones. If you’ve had an opportunity to research the company the person represents, then ask about the company and everything in particular that interests you. If you’re not as prepared as you’d like to be, then ask more general questions, like how the person became interested in the profession that they’re in, what their biggest challenge was, and their favorite aspect of the work that they do. This shows that you’re interested and can carry a conversation.

5. Don’t Be Desperate

Whether you’re a freshman going to your very first networking event or a senior anxiously looking for a first job, don’t show signs of weakness. Successful alumni are like wolves — they can smell fear — so make sure you’re confident. If you know what you’re worth, they’ll know it too, so shake hands firmly, and try to keep eye contact at all times. Don’t tell them that working at their company would be your absolute dream come true, but do let them know that working with them would definitely interest you.

6. Thank Them, and Use Their Name

As your conversation winds down, make sure you thank these people for their time, and use their name when you do so. Numerous studies show that people love hearing their own name — let’s face it, we’re all narcissists at heart — and they’ll be happy to know that you actually remembered it. With that said, don’t use their name unless you definitely remember it!

7. Follow Up

Assuming you have contact info, which you most definitely should have gotten, e-mail your new network of people and thank them again. Let them know it was great to meet them and that you look forward to keeping in touch. If you’re feeling really bold, ask them to contact you if any career opportunities or internships open up.

8. Organize Your Contacts

After each event, add the names of people you’ve met along with their contact info into a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. As you attend more and more events, your list will grow, and by the time you need to search for a job or an internship, you’ll have a list of people to contact handy. Believe me, it will save you endless hours of searching through old folders and papers. If you find yourself with a pocketful of business cards at the end of the day, put them in a safe place as well. Invest in a business card holder or just use a Ziploc bag, but keep them together and organized. This will make your job or internship search much quicker and much less overwhelming.

9. Use Social Networks Carefully

Social networks really are the new frontier for all kinds of interactions, but make sure you’re using the appropriate tools for appropriate relationships. Finding professional contacts on LinkedIn is a great idea, but avoid friending them on Facebook. Facebook is still, for now, more personal-friend oriented, and friending a person you just met on Facebook might send the wrong idea. Twitter is really a judgement call. Some people use it for more professional purposes while others just use it as a personal account. Either way, be careful when you reach out via socially oriented websites.

10. Keep Following Up

When it’s time to land that job or internship, don’t hesitate to contact all the people you’ve met at networking events. It’s best to check in with all your contacts from time to time, even if you aren’t looking for a job at the moment, just to keep yourself fresh in their minds. But, even if it has been a while, reach out to them. Remind them who you are and where you met, and don’t be too apologetic for not contacting them in the past. They know they are a professional contact and don’t expect a weekly check-in.

Remember: Be brave when talking to your contacts, no matter how “high-up” they are. And always be yourself. Happy Networking!

Maria Minsker Maria Minsker Maria Minsker is a junior English and communication double major at Cornell University. She is an aspiring journalist who loves to travel, try foreign cuisines and watch reruns of old sitcoms.

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