Spring usually signifies the start of the search to find an internship for the summer or job upon graduation. It is an extremely stressful process in which most have little control over, and while we can’t control what employers decide, what we can control is how we interact, and making connections to stand out. I was blessed to have been offered a job this November at a company I love simply through networking, and when I was least expecting it. I initially expected to land something in the spring through applying on Indeed or LinkedIn, but I was fortunate to have an internship this fall that tasked me with networking with 15 people at 15 different companies. The value of networking is so high, which is why I want to share the 10 tips I learned through networking this fall to hopefully ease some stress and make the process more enjoyable!
1. Don’t be afraid of it
Talking to strangers or to someone on the phone in this generation may as well be compared to a giant tarantula on your head- terrifying. I can still remember the day my boss sat me down in her office and said she was going to change my internship from the typical office clerical tasks, to networking. At first I was confused, because my definition of networking at that time was connecting on LinkedIn and ending it there. When she slid across the table a sheet with 50+ names I didn’t know, my stomach took a nose dive and I just thought I have to go drive to somewhere I don’t know and talk with someone I don’t know? Sending my first email felt exactly like when I texted my crush in 7th grade that I liked him -fear of rejection. I have noticed in myself and others that we are afraid to reach out to mentors and professionals because we think we are “less than,” and aren’t worth their time. I soon found out that business professionals love to talk to bright eyed college students about what they do because they are passionate about it, or simply because it breaks up their day a little bit. After my third or fourth networking interview, I was actually excited to go to a new company and meet someone to hear about their experiences and advice. If it weren’t for networking, I would not have found out that some companies let you bring your dog to work, have a fully stocked fridge of Bubbly, or a complete bar of every cereal with milk. Overall, networking is nothing to be afraid of, but driving downtown during rush hour? That’s a different story.
2. Use all mediums
Don’t be like the naive Lauren that thought networking was only done on LinkedIn. But don’t also be naive in thinking networking is done only in person. Networking can be done through any medium, heck, even Bumble has a networking feature! Do phone networking interviews, use the internet, creep on people’s bios on Instagram to find out where they work then slide into their DM’s (don’t judge me), talk in person at job fairs, go to a professor’s office who knows people and get their contact information, email someone, text them if it is allowed (I texted the VP of HR at Target, she didn’t reply back), facetime them, snapchat a friend who had an internship at a company you like. You get the idea; there are NO RULES for networking, just keep in mind professionalism and who you are talking to aka don’t use Quick Add on Snapchat and snap a VP at a company if someone gave you their phone number.
3. Use LinkedIn filters
I have been happy to help out a couple friends with their great internship search over the years, and every single time I use the phrase “LinkedIn filters” they look at me like I just told them I’m moving to Guam aka very confused. LinkedIn is meant to make your life easier, and without the filters, trying to find someone that works at Life Time Fitness Corporate, was a psychology major, in the field of HR, and graduated a certain year is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. These filters let you do that exactly, and that is how I found all my connections. I thought I was one of the only people who was a psychology major going into business, specifically HR, but to my surprise I found a Gustavus grad who was a psych major going into HR and also worked as a stylist at Maurice’s during high school just like I did. LinkedIn makes the world pretty small if you want it to be! The alumni network at Gustavus has been crucial to my search, and is actually how I landed my job at Boom Lab. D3 school alumni networks are pretty close knit, and while I don’t know how it is at bigger schools, I’m going to infer that a fellow gopher would be willing to help another gopher because #skiumah – it runs deep.
4. Ask meaningful questions
While this one sounds like a very obvious tip, starting out, I asked questions that were quick and easy so I could get out of there and back to my introvert lifestyle. After a couple interviews, I realized my questions weren’t helping me figure out what I was interested in at all. So with that, take time to sit down and think about what you truly want to know. No question is a bad question which is why I started asking them what the worst part of their job was, what their biggest regret was, and most importantly, advice that they wish they knew when they were in college. These were the questions that helped me the most rather than “what is the mission of your company?” which in reality they didn’t actually know off the top of their heads and I could have looked it up on the Internet. The questions you should be asking are the ones that you can’t look up, the worries you have about the future and the potential field. Once it becomes a conversation rather than an interview, that’s when it becomes valuable.
5. Give them a business card
The day my parents told me I should get business cards freshman year, I thought they were insane. Why would I need a business card if I didn’t work anywhere? Once I began to give them out, I soon realized that a lot of college students must have had that same thought as me because every employer, or professional I gave one to said that I was the only student they’ve received one from and that they were impressed (insert smirk of pride here). Sure, your card may have the same exact information on it as the resume they are currently holding, but it isn’t the information on the card that is valuable to them, it is the fact that you have a card. That shows professionalism, a trait that employers look for in college students. It shows that you are one step ahead and are looking for opportunities to put yourself out there. That business card sitting on their desk while they are paging through all their interview notes may just be the reason you stand out as the best candidate for the position. If all else fails, use the leftover business cards for those contests at restaurants such as Culvers where you can drop in a business card to win free Butterburgers for a month.
6. Go the extra mile
When I say go the extra mile, I mean this literally. When I set up these networking interviews (yes I did meet with my dad and brother – never overlook the value of family members!), I was driving twice a week from Gustavus to the cities just to make it more convenient for who I was meeting with, and because I wanted to see the company. Employers appreciate the gesture that you are willing to come their way, and it shows that you are truly interested. There were a couple meetings I had where they offered to meet me somewhere in the middle at a coffee shop, but I told them I would rather come to their place so I could see what their culture was like. Not only does that give them a good impression that you are willing to put in the work, but it also helps you because you get to see what kind of company culture you like. It was so cool going around to the different cultures and seeing these people in their element. Yeah, I may have had to drive downtown several times and pay $36 for parking all while getting lost in the skyways – but if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have learned that I love the culture of Boom Lab the best and can see myself there, and I wouldn’t have gotten the job. Go the extra mile, even if it is all the way in the boonies…and give them a business card at the end 🙂
7. Follow up with them
This is not the kind of follow up where someone hasn’t replied back to you in several days so you “follow up” with them which us more of a polite way to say spam or give them a nudge. Have you ever had someone ask you for help with something and wonder how it all turned out in the end? This goes for networking too, especially if it’s alumni from your college. I have stayed in contact with my mentor at Gustavus and have updated her with where her advice has taken me in my career. I can’t confirm that she enjoys that I do that; but based on the fact that she emails me back with exclamation points, smiley faces, and “thanks for the update” I’m going to assume it was appreciated. After I completed my networking report, I sent it to a few of the people I interviewed because they were truly interested in what I was doing. It isn’t quite common for a college student to spend a semester traveling around the cities meeting with VPs of companies or going to two fortune 500 companies in the same week. In addition, giving the people you met with updates on where you end up just keeps the connection alive, and they may remember you for future opportunities. It’s part of the full life cycle of networking, and acknowledges them for their help in your journey to success.
8. Contact list
Keep a list of everyone you have met with, their contact information, and company they are at. You never know when you may need to contact them, contact someone at a certain company, or ask them for a contact. A lot of people forget that whoever you know, you basically now know who they know (let that sink in). A well known phrase is “it’s not about what you know, but who you know.” A great example of this, is that I knew my boss here on campus, and she seems to know everyone, which is why I now have her list of 100+ contacts that she shared with for these networking interviews. Knowing a guy who knows a guy is your key to finding an “in.” My personal list was not long at all before I started this process, but even if it is one person on your list from a business card you received, your list is a lot longer than you think due to all the people that one person knows. Based off this concept, I know an executive for the MN Twins, Cargill, Health Partners, the VP of HR at the Minneapolis Heart Institute and many more places that could be a huge connection to have down the road. Technically, since you all know me, you know them too 🙂 Favors and references in the business world are everything.
9. Get personal
As creepy as it may sound, it makes the experience so much more comfortable, but it also makes them remember you. I remember the day I was going to meet with the VP of HR at the Minneapolis Heart Institute, I was nervous as heck because I was just an aspiring HR student, whereas she was taking part of her busy day as an executive for me, and I wanted to make it worth her time. This meeting ended up being one of my favorites because we connected over the fact that her daughter was also a gymnast who had to retire from a back injury just like me, and she used to work at the company my dad did. It’s the little things and stories that people remember about you, not your GPA. Being able to talk about things other than work is important because it makes it more of a conversation rather than an interview trying to get some type of benefit out of it. In some of my meetings we talked about their recent wedding, their dogs, what they enjoyed about college, and even their favorite cereal (this was at Post, I’m not that random). Getting personal makes you stand out because I bet you that there are 100 something candidates with the same experiences in college and GPA as you, but what probably isn’t the same, is being able to connect with them through something only you have in common with them.
10. Write a thank you
Writing HANDWRITTEN thank you notes is advised for after internship and job interviews, so it may seem silly to write one just for a networking meeting, but it isn’t. The person you met with didn’t have to agree to take time out of their day, they didn’t have to reply to your email, they didn’t have to buy your coffee, and they didn’t have to answer your questions they probably get asked all the time. Not only is it common courtesy, but it also is just one of those things that people never do which in return will make them remember you. The content of the note is equally as important. Remember one thing from your conversation that you found helpful and tell them that you thought it was helpful, and then mention something personal. For example: one meeting I had, she ordered a pumpkin spice drink for the first time and said she hoped it wasn’t too sweet. At the end of my note I did a little P.S. and wrote that I hoped her drink wasn’t too sweet. Yeah, that may be cheesy, but it shows that you paid attention to the little details and you cared enough to remember something about them. That goes a long way, and so does sending a thank you note in the first place that YOU wrote, not the keys on the keyboard. Even if you have the worst handwriting in the world and they can’t read it at all, they will still appreciate it, because you took your time to acknowledge the time they took.
I never knew the value of networking until I did it, I don’t want to sound like an infomercial here, but networking changed my life. What I was doing before (sitting behind my computer screen applying for so many jobs) would be the black and white part of the infomercial with the big red x over it. Boom Lab didn’t have any applications out, didn’t recruit at my college, and had no advertisements on Indeed; so when I say I would not have gotten this job without networking, that is the total truth. It is a lot more fun getting out there and seeing where you could be instead of sitting behind a screen, and seriously, college students don’t just “go network.” That being said, GO NETWORK.
I’d love to know if any of these worked for you! Inbox is always open 🙂