We've covered what networking is, so how do you do it and where do you do it?
A. Confidence, practice, persistence, friendliness, professionalism, on and on..
From past experiences I know that networking can take place in an expected setting such as conferences, networking trips, classrooms, or guest speakers, but it can also happen in unexpected places. I attended the Wedding MBA Conference in Las Vegas a few years ago and while a group of us were out one night a woman in a restroom asked where we were from. After telling her we were students attending a conference she told us she was from New Orleans and would love to bring some Mizzou students down to her event planning company as interns. She gave us her business card and we spoke a few times after the conference. Another example would be when one of my close friends attended an event in South Carolina a few years ago and while we were on the plane back to Chicago the man next to him started speaking to him about his connections with professional sports teams in Kansas City. They stayed in contact long after that and discussed multiple internship and job opportunities in the KC area. Networking can happen anywhere!
The point of these stories is, yes you should put yourself out there and attend events that are going to obviously be good networking opportunities, but you should also be prepared at any time to talk about yourself and express your desires and plans with people. You may just be sitting on an airplane when you get your shot!
Now, to go back to the "how" part of this article... that is a little more difficult. To start, here are my key suggestions based of my successes and failures with this:
1. Learn how to talk about yourself.
2. Research! (Even if it is just a little, tiny bit)
3. Don't be something you're not.
4. Business Cards! Personally, I think they're more beneficial than taking resumes, more about this below :)
1. Learn how to talk about yourself. This is something I still struggle with honestly. Are you talking too much? Do you sound too confident? Too uncertain? Unimpressive? Are you clearly expressing your goals? - It's a lot to consider and worry about, especially in a situation where a small mess up could be harmful to your future. Take a breath. No one knows you better than you do!
I've tried to set goals for myself when networking.
1. Get my main career goal out there to the person
2. Mention one or two facts about my experience or past
3. Compliment them or ask about something they've done
4. Give them contact information
First goal listed is the whole point of networking! If I'm in a place with other sports industry professionals, I say the departments I'm interested in working in. If I'm with event planning professionals I talk about how much I'd like to do events for sports teams or playoffs (etc.). If I'm with academics, I mention my goals of graduate school and becoming a professor after working in the industry for a while. If it's a mix of people that may or may not help me with my career, I still mention a career goal, but don't get as specific unless they ask. At that point it's more about gaining a contact and getting your name out there, not so much a job or (immediate) opportunity.
Secondly, I mention a fact or two just to show that I do have experience in the industry and that I am working toward my goal, not just dreaming or wishing. This is followed by complimenting them or asking them about their role or background. I'll get into this more below. Lastly, make sure you give them contact information! I am AWFUL with names, so if I don't write it down or get a business card, I probably won't remember your name no matter how hard I try. Give them something with your name and a way to contact you so they don't have to work so hard to remember you!
2. Research! There are a lot of people who want to be the Special Events Director for the St. Louis Cardinals and Busch Stadium. She receives emails upon emails daily stating interest in a job or internship. So, when I met with her during a tour of Busch Stadium I made it a point to introduce myself during the tour and while walking from place to place held conversation with her. It was mostly two or three of us with her during these conversations, but at one point it was just her and I speaking. The Cardinals had hosted a soccer game that past summer during the season and the outfield had been really torn up, some people had blamed poor play from outfielders on the field conditions caused by the soccer game. I realized that she was the one who booked this soccer game, so I asked her if they had any soccer games scheduled during the upcoming season and if they had received any backlash from scheduling that game. (Please realize if you ask a question like this you have to be tactful and ask politely. Saying "so did someone yell at you because the soccer game tore up the field during the season?", is NOT going to get you very far.) She was impressed that I followed the Cardinals and the events the stadium was putting on so closely. We discussed my question as well as my career goals and my background for at least 15 minutes afterwards. I have attended multiple events where she recognizes me and greets me. My detailed question made me stand out from those who stayed quiet. If you want more examples of this I have plenty, just comment below or email me! :)
3. This is simple. Don't be something you're not. Don't say you have three years of work experience if you don't. Don't say you're president of a student organization if you're not. Don't say your GPA or GRE score is higher than it is. These lies and bending of truth will come out sooner or later. Just be you! If you aren't happy with the you that you can present then look for more opportunities to build your resume and gain experience!
4. Business Cards - I LOVE business cards and I LOVE designing business cards! You can do so many cool things with them and they are so convenient! I used to take resumes with me on networking trips, but it is awkward to hand this stranger a resume as a way to stay in contact. It's also hard to carry resumes with you without bending them or tearing them. I love that I can just pull out my business card holder and hand them a very professional business card with all of my contact information. I would suggest getting business cards to anyone! If you want help with design or content just comment below! I'll try to push a post out about that very soon as well!
As always, if you have questions, comment or email me! Hope this helped!
Part III on maintaining networking connections will be coming soon!