As a college professor, January means gearing up for the spring semester classes. The spring semester is traditionally very different than the fall semester as Seniors need to find that all important job, and Juniors need to find that all important final internship for their resume. On campus, the spring semester features twice as many Career Center events, meaning students need to employ their networking skills… often.
Networking (i.e., the person-to-person kind) is often talked about but widely misunderstood. It regularly disheartens students when I do deep-dives into the topic because it is never as easy as it sounds. I have two undergraduate classes this spring so I had them in mind when I outlined the following three thoughts on how to network well.
First, and the most important, networking is about a mutually beneficial exchange. In order for the networking relationship to develop, there needs to be something in it for them, not just you. Many undergraduates go to a career event with the idea of meeting three new people or some similar goal. While they may pass out their resume or business cards to those on their “hit list,” they are one of 75 students who do the same thing at that same event. 74 of those students, during their 90 seconds with the very important individual, use their time to describe what they want or need. The one clever student either knows in advance how they can be helpful, or uses their 90 seconds to figure out how they can be helpful and therefore develop a new relationship with the important individual. In summary, the old networking adage, “it’s not what you know but who you know” is not only inaccurate, but also dangerous. It is what you know because if you do not have something that is mutually beneficial for both parties, the network relationship will not develop.
Second, Rome was not built in a day and a strong mutually beneficial relationship is not created in just a 90 second meeting. A strong network takes time to develop. There needs to be multiple mutually beneficial exchanges over time for that relationship to progress. Just think about the 25 people you messaged in the past 24 hours. Did those relationships occur in just 90 seconds? No, they started off with a 90 second first meeting but they deepened over time and both of you have found ways to be helpful.
Third, do not over rely on the digital technologies (i.e., LinkedIn). I love LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn more than any other social network but LinkedIn is significantly better at maintaining a relationship than starting one. Just because a student has over 500 LinkedIn contacts doesn’t mean they have a strong network. LinkedIn is great for keeping in touch and provides the glue to those mutually beneficial exchanges. Yes, I have started a strong networking relationship via LinkedIn but I also nurtured that relationship over time by being helpful.
How about a bonus thought? What is the best way to develop your network? Leverage your existing network. Go into your LinkedIn and find 10 very strong mutually beneficial relationships you developed over time. Ask each of those 10 individuals to introduce you to 1 person in their network related to some particular goal. And remember, in order for this new relationship to flourish, you must find a way to be helpful.
Something to think about today…
Associate Professor of Marketing
Methodologist, Seton Hall Sports Poll
Stillman School of Business