“Networking is more about farming than it’s about hunting.”
It can be intimidating and challenging to enter a room when you don’t know anyone there. Being in a room full of representatives from companies you want to work at seems daunting to many. Calling these events ‘networking sessions’ has done a really good job to make people anxious. A lot of students decide not to go to such events in their initial years at the university because they think it’s not important at that moment as they don’t have sufficient experience yet to get a job at these places, so there’s no point of meeting those people. When you are meeting a person for the first time you are not asking them for a job, you are simply there to learn about their experience, talk to them and get to know how they got there! Just think of it in a different way, you are there to share your story, hear their story and see what part of their story you might like to add on to yours. It’s always scary to talk to people from the company which matches your values and perhaps when you see yourself working there. One of the best networking tips I have received is to start talking to the companies you are least interested to work with to warm up, so that you are comfortable and confident until you meet the one you are passionate about.
How to approach a networker?
When you meet a person, introduce yourself and ask them where they work and what they do there. This is a very basic conversation starter. After that, you can ask them questions about what their typical day of work looks like. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your experience and ask what helped them to get to the position they are in right now. Share your experience, what you like about the company and how it matches with your values. Ask them what they enjoy about their work and if there’s something they would change about it. Connect with them on a personal level by genuinely asking them curious questions. You are meeting them to guide you the right way and seeking for mentorship. I always like to ask them that what advice they would like to give at this stage of my life and what they would have told their younger self to do differently that might help me too. Think of them as the same person as you are today. They went through similar things, but grew from it and are here to tell you how. After seeking advice, thank them for their time, ask their business card and move on to the next person. You are building these relationships which will help you to get your dream job in future.
Meeting networkers is not the last step of the networking process, it’s merely a beginning. This is where ‘farming’ comes into the play. Once you have met the person, talked to them and received their business card, follow-up begins. Connect with them on LinkedIn and send them a personalized message to remind them of who you are, briefly mentioning what you talked about and thanking them for their time. If they are not on LinkedIn, send them a follow-up email! Some networkers prefer email as to LinkedIn so there’s no harm in asking them about their preference after you meet them. If you are really interested in potentially working at a company, email that person once in a month or two. Update them with what you are doing, ask them if they would be able to meet you and act as your mentor or advisor for the industry. Stay in contact with them, and ask them appropriate questions which can help you in near future. Ask them what you should do differently to potentially be a part of the company. This is what can set you apart because most of the people don’t do this. If there’s a organization you really like but you haven’t met a contact in person, send them an email and show your interest in the company. Ask them if they would be able to meet you and mentor you. Worst case is that they won’t reply, but take your chances! What are the odds? You’ll be surprised how approachable networkers actually are. I didn’t realize this until I received the same advice and saw the results myself.
The following is my interpretation of the quote mentioned in the beginning: Going to a networking session is like planting a seed and following up with the people you meet is like nurturing the plant. The more water and nutrients you give the plant, the longer it will stay alive and the larger it grows. This is same with the relationships you build with the people you meet. Remember the concept of moderation, because it’s not in your favor to give too much or less water to the plant.
It’s in your hands to decide how to approach networking sessions, find your own way to connect with people and maintain those connections.
Happy networking and welcome to the DECA family! I hope to meet you soon.
Director of Training, DECA U Guelph 2018-19