Every time I’ve asked someone for advice about finding a job or succeeding in an internship, I’ve gotten a similar answer: “Build and utilize your professional network.”
Networking may be one of today’s most popular corporate buzzwords, but you simply cannot deny its value and its power.
Now, if you would’ve asked me in May, I definitely wouldn’t have voiced the same opinion on this topic.
As a senior in one of the top public relations programs in the United States, I’ve been told that networking was important countless times. However, I never really knew where to start or how to properly reach out to professionals outside of attending on-campus events or PRSSA’s National Conference. Furthermore, I never fully embraced its value.
This summer completely changed all of that. I was fortunate enough to spend three months as an intern at adidas’ North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon. On the first day of work, we had a panel discussion with former interns about how to succeed in the internship program. The prevailing piece of advice that each individual on the panel shared was to take advantage of adidas’ “coffee chat culture” and set up informational interviews with anyone in the company whose role was of any interest to you.
So, I did just that. I made it one of my personal goals to meet at least three to five new people each week. I worked in product marketing in U.S. Football, but I began reaching out to people in other areas of the business, such as Brand Communications, Volleyball, Women’s Training and Running.
I quickly realized a couple of things.
First, I realized how much I enjoyed these meetings. It was great to take small breaks from my daily workload to meet new people. I often left these meetings feeling inspired and energized by each person’s story and advice. Furthermore, I saw this as an opportunity to fully immerse myself in the company. I wanted to be able to know the people who I saw walking around campus on a daily basis, and these meetings allowed me to do just that.
This experience also opened my eyes to the amount of jobs within a large corporation that I’ve never known to exist. There are some areas that I wouldn’t have considered working in prior to a 30-minute meeting, simply because I was unclear on their specific function.
Although you may not have the ability to set up face-to-face meetings as I did, you can just as easily set up time to discuss someone’s career over the phone. Most people are happy to share their wealth of knowledge with aspirational young professionals.
That said, here are a few tips on how to be successful in all of your networking endeavors.
1. If you are unsure of where to start, begin with those around you. Many of your colleagues, professors and peers have likely held jobs at multiple companies and can introduce you to a friend or a former co-worker. All that it takes is enough confidence on your part to initiate the conversation.
2. Transparency is key. When you reach out to someone for the first time, you should be direct in your expectations for the meeting. What are you hoping to learn from them? Would you like specific insight into their day-to-day responsibilities, or would you rather hear their perspective on the industry as a whole? By clearly communicating the purpose of the meeting, you can ensure that both of you are prepared.
3. Do your research. Although you may want to learn about an individual’s entire career path, you’ll likely only have a half-hour discussion, and it is hard for someone to pack years of experience into that time. Therefore, you may want to develop more insightful questions that will give you specific information about the industry or about an individual’s position. A good test to see if your questions are good enough? Ask yourself whether you can find the answer by simply looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile. If so, try developing different questions.
4. Be a good listener. You set up this meeting to learn something new, so you should come out of it more knowledgeable about a position, company or industry than you were before. In order to do so, you need to truly listen to and engage with what someone has to say. The worst mistake that you can make is to spend all of your time worrying about what you’re going to say next. Trust that the conversation will flow naturally.
5. Don’t underestimate the importance of a thank you. Whenever someone takes time out of their busy schedule for you, you should always follow up with a thank-you note. My biggest tip is to write down what you discussed immediately after the conclusion of the meeting. This way, you can organize your thoughts and write a personalized note that genuinely shows that the meeting was beneficial for you. Your follow-up may even open the door for a second meeting.
Finally, remember that it is never too late — or too early — to begin building your professional network. This is a timeless skill that will last past the duration of any job or internship. You never know . . . the next person you meet could be instrumental in shaping the next few years of your career.
By Halle Russo, VP of Chapter Communications