Today, networking is a necessity to build a proper foundation for professional development and strengthening connections with others. It is about creating meaningful conversations, and can be started at any stage of the job search process – it is never too early or too late. Having a positive mindset can help you get started. Nonetheless, it can feel overwhelming.
UConn alum Lauren Soule ‘12, a Strategic Communications Professional, works with a variety of clients facing communications and public affairs challenges and has had extensive experience with public relations and communications advising. Recently, Lauren sat down with The Center for Career Development to talk about the importance of networking, the networking mindset, and advice on effective networking. Below are some of the key takeaways from this interview.
Networking: What it really is
At first glance, students might see networking as a one-on-one constrained meeting with potential employers. “They can feel very transactional,” Lauren says. In order to produce an organic conversation with networking contacts, it’s important to not lose sight of the basis of networking. “Think about networking as a way of truly connecting with people.”
Talk to them as if they were a colleague or a coworker with the same amount of respect and attention to their interests and experiences. Getting people to open up to you in a way that makes them feel safe and heard leaves a lasting, positive impression. Although it is not advised to enter a conversation on the fly, being consciously prepared by having simple conversation starters and questions conveys engagement and a genuine desire to connect.
Beyond Non-traditional Networking
LinkedIn is a great platform to connect and create a bigger professional network with the click of a button. Nowadays, it has become an essential networking tool, especially with the limits set upon us by the pandemic.
However, there are other ways to develop close connections with those in your immediate circle. Networking might just be right under your nose, Lauren says. “Make sure not to overlook your immediate circle because often times your friends and family, your neighbors, or who you commute with, might know someone who you could connect with for a future opportunity down the road.”
- Who do I know?
- How should I network internally? – If you are currently working, find out how to communicate between associates and coworkers, and set up time to meet.
- What is the best way to contact/approach this person?
Communicate your intentions and reach out with a mindful approach. Be it through email, calls, or virtual meetings, the best thing you can do is to be straightforward but flexible and considerate of the other person’s time and work. Researching beforehand and learning more about the person with whom you will connect allows you easier access to create a common ground between you and new networking contacts.
UConn offers a fantastic online mentoring platform, the Husky Mentor Network, that allows students to connect with alumni and professionals for one-on-one career conversation including discussing choosing a major, résumé critiques, practice interviews, and more. Virtual networking has never been so easy!
The Networking Mindset
Go into networking with an open mind. Lauren reminds us that even if the connections we make seem a little of a far reach for networking, “every conversation is really valuable.” Talking with as many people as possible could lead to unexpected career chances and shifts.
She encourages all students to, “be positive and persistent . . . try to keep a positive mind.” Networking can offer new opportunities, and while rejection is hard to swallow, keeping your chin up and realizing that there is always a better fit for you will allow you to move on to new connections. As long as you stay proactive and not fear over communication, especially following up with new contacts, forming professional relationships could advance your career.
How to Continue Networking
Networking requires time. It is a learned skill, and just like any other skill, sharpening it takes practice. “Look for opportunities,” Lauren advises students – especially those who are new and are initially nervous. Expose yourself to social events and practice how to introduce yourself and create authentic conversations. While at work, make it a goal to talk to five people in a month and engage with others as best as you can. Participate in virtual networking events that interest you, attend webinars to get to know more about certain professionals and ask intuitive questions, or set informational interviews with employers that interest you.
The possibilities are endless, but it is pivotal to keep networking and maintain that network.
By Andrea Gonzalez