Well over half of all jobs and internships are obtained through networking. Networking is extremely important in developing professional contacts and creating internship and job leads. Review the information below to get started building your professional network. Additionally, use the following links to find detailed information about useful networking activities and resources:
Networking is meeting people, getting to know them, allowing them to get to know you, and hopefully building lasting connections that may or may not result in professional or developmental opportunities.
Those who are good at networking understand that there is give and take. Always express appreciation for the assistance you receive, and offer help in return whenever possible. As a very young person, it may be difficult to recognize what you have to offer the people you meet. You will feel like you are taking a lot away from the connections you make. Keep in mind that an opportunity to give back may not come right away – you might be a few years out of college before you have something concrete to offer a professional who helped you. For example, in return for valuable career advice and referrals, Jimmy, a college junior, met with his professional contact’s high-school-aged son to offer advice on navigating the search for a university and insights into surviving college-level academics.
As you begin to meet professionals in fields of interest, you will notice that most in your network will not have hiring power. However, they will offer career advice and valuable information while steering you toward those who do have hiring power. If a resume is preceded by a conversation with a hiring manager or a referral from a valued colleague, you will make an even stronger impression.
Meeting professionals in your field of interest will allow you to hear first-hand information about what that career is like. Network in order to:
- Explore careers
- Conduct research on an industry or organization
- Prepare for an interview
- Gather information if seeking opportunities in an unfamiliar city
- Learn about potential internship or job opportunities (navigate the hidden job market!)
Take advantage of opportunities to meet professionals in person. Start by talking with family and friends at events and social gatherings. Follow-up with those you are referred to by scheduling in-person meetings (see tips and advice for informational interviews).
While in-person networking is most effective, it is often necessary to initiate a connection in another way (phone, email) in order to arrange an in-person meeting. Send an email first. Do not include your resume if you are contacting a professional for the first time and have had no previous correspondence with or introduction to her/him. Say in your email that you will follow-up with a phone call, and do so within three or four business days of when you originally send your message.
Once you are ready to contact a professional by phone, be prepared for the inevitable game of phone tag and the possibility of catching your contact off guard. It may help to specify when you plan to call in your original email. For example, “I will call you on Wednesday afternoon to see if we could arrange a time to meet.”
Here is what we recommend:
Draft a letter of inquiry and have it looked at by a Piper Center staff member for tone and clarity. We can help you determine if you are being too passive or aggressive, whether you have the right word choices, etc. Here is an example of a brief email sent to a potential contact:
Dear Mr. Callahan,
I received your email from Janine Knutson in the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, who recommended I reach out to you. I am a junior at St. Olaf, studying political science and religion.
Janine suggested I contact you because of your familiarity with both the public and nonprofit sectors. I am looking into opportunities in the federal government as well as faith-based nonprofits focused on international development, and she thought you might be able to help by offering a comparative perspective on these two career directions given your experience at both the U.S. Department of State and Lutheran World Relief. Would it be possible to speak with you about your experiences?
I appreciate any help or perspective you can offer in whatever depth your schedule allows. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Sample follow-up call
Caller: This is Suzie Johnson calling for Mr. Callahan.
Caller: Janine Knutson, from St. Olaf recommended that I reach out to you about my interest in the federal government as well as nonprofits. I actually sent you an email regarding this last week.
Receiver: How is Janine? I haven’t spoken to her in a while?
Caller: She’s doing great. She is still working in the Piper Center at St. Olaf. She recommended I do more informational interviewing to research my career interests, and that’s when your name came up.
Receiver: That’s great to hear. Please give Janine my regards. Now I know I saw your email, but perhaps you can remind me how I can help you?
Caller: I am currently a junior at St. Olaf, double majoring in political science and religion. I’m looking at opportunities in the federal government such as the State Department and at faith-based organizations like Lutheran World Relief. Janine thought you might be able to help by offering a comparative perspective…
In all correspondence with a professional:
- Be concise
- Make a connection between you and the reader
- State your purpose without pressuring the reader
- Explain your situation briefly
- Request a meeting or conversation at a mutually convenient time, indicate that you will call to
When networking, never start out asking for an internship or job!
If you do decide to make initial contact via phone, plan ahead of time what you will say. Here is an example:
“Hi, my name is ___________. I am a ___(class year)____ at St. Olaf College exploring employment opportunities in the field of ___(occupational area)____, in ___(city)____. I am particularly interested in what your company/organization does, I found your name on the online alumni directory (or it was passed on to me by ___(name)___). I was hoping you might be someone I could talk to about what it’s like working for ___(company name)____. Could we schedule a time in the next few days to talk more over the phone or in person?
Note: If you would like to call an organization to inquire about internships or jobs, and you do not have a specific contact name, say to the person who answers:
“I’d like to speak with the director of _____(department of interest)______, please.” “Hi, my name is _______. I’m calling to inquire if you currently have any job openings available for ___(position type)___ or if you anticipate any openings in the near future?”
“May I send you a copy of my résumé to keep on file in the event that something should become available?”
*Be prepared to answer questions about your own experiences, skills, interests and goals, and always follow up with a thank you note!
Research the industry, organization, and job title of your contact in order to formulate
thoughtful questions for her/him. Depending on your goals for the meeting, plan to ask for
career information, leads, advice, referrals, ideas, etc.
Make sure you have an up-to-date resume that displays your skills and background
experiences. Have it critiqued by a Piper Center staff member! Professionals you correspond with
may eventually want to see your resume to learn more about you.
*Persistence and politeness are the keys to finding success with networking!
Who to Include in Your Network
Your network consists of all the people you know and everyone you have yet to meet; anyone who might be able to offer advice, information, or referrals to additional contacts, share specific job openings, introduce you to people with hiring power, and/or serve as a mentor.
- Parents (yours and those of classmates)
- Participants in career panels and guest speakers (attend these events!!!)
- Current and former employers
- Administrators and college leadership
- St. Olaf Alumni (use the alumni directory to find)
- Professional association members
You will run into professionals in a variety of settings, from where you volunteer or attend religious services to job and internship fairs right here on campus. The point is to get out and mingle in groups where you are most likely to encounter professionals who can help. This is called ‘planned happenstance.’
Online networking is incredibly popular due to social networking sites like LinkedIn. If you do not yet have a profile on LinkedIn, consider creating one! LinkedIn provides a very helpful Grad Guide which walks you through everything from conducting company research to building your professional network, all using LinkedIn resources. View the Piper Center’s “Top 6 Things You Should Know About LinkedIn” tipsheet. Also, “Ten Ways to use LinkedIn” by Guy Kawasaki will help you navigate this professional networking site.
*Your online presence is important! Three out of four recruiters conduct internet searches on potential candidates. Talk with Piper Center staff members if you have any questions about how to network effectively online.
Know your purpose: you waste your contacts’ time when you do not know what you want to do, where you want to work, skills you want to use, etc. If you are just beginning to explore, do some initial career research on your own using Piper Center resources. Then do some informational interviews to gather more information. Try to have a good sense of general areas of interest and skills. The more specific you can be, the more helpful your contacts can be!
Do your homework: Do not ask your contacts questions that could easily be answered by doing basic research online or in a career library. You will impress your contacts by knowing about your field of interest, your contacts’ organizations, etc. Also, use professional associations websites and other sources to remain up to date on trends and industry news. Use the Piper Center ’s Assessing & Exploring Careers resources.
Don’t act desperate: Contacts are much more willing to help and refer someone who is confident and capable. Stay positive and upbeat. Smile, maintain eye contact, have fun!
Listen: When a contact is offering advice, listen attentively. Do not monopolize the conversation, and do not rush through it. When you write your thank you message, include something you learned from the conversation that will show you listened.
Respect your contacts’ time: Do not drop in uninvited, and if you call always ask if it is a good time to talk. Make the conversation brief and to the point. Do not share your life story, and remain aware of time zones. With an initial conversation, be patient with making your pitch. You may need to start with more casual conversation, and listen for the right cues to “market yourself.”
Ask for help in small doses: Do not burden your contact right off the bat with requests for additional contacts, job advice, etc. Ask more questions than favors. If offered referrals to additional contacts, it is important to follow-up right away! Doing so will demonstrate professionalism and seriousness. Be sure you have completed all you were asked to do by a contact before you contact them again for additional assistance.
Get permission: Before using any contact’s name to approach another contact, make sure you have permission. Tell prospective contacts how you got their information. Honor any requests for confidentiality. Do not attribute information to a contact or other source without reflecting on whether the disclosure will compromise the person.
Be careful with use of the word networking: Unless you are attending an event earmarked for the purpose, it is best to consider what you are doing as making connections, building relationships, and seeking advice. No need to label it in conversations with contacts!
Do not be pushy and aggressive: Be sensitive to just how much a contact is willing or able to do for you, and do not push them beyond their limits. Be persistent but not annoying. In a majority of cases, you should not ask for a job or internship.
Never criticize anything or anyone: You are making a first impression. If you are seen as negative and gossipy, that impression will stick! You never know who they know, or how they will react to a comment about their role or organization. Keep your conversation positive.
Remember that it’s a two-way street: Reciprocity is the most important aspect of networking etiquette. Try to learn ways that you can help your contacts and offer that help whenever possible. This is especially difficult for college-age students who may not feel they have much to give. But, even offering your own connections or your talents in some regard could be enough to let your contact know that you are not just a “taker.”
Follow Up: Always send a thank you note after meeting with a contact and follow-up promptly on referrals and advice. Always make sure to:
- Create a system to organize your contacts
- Keep contacts informed of your progress when it makes sense
- Follow advice and share the results with those who offered
- Let your contacts know when you have landed a position and thank those who helped you along the way.
Here is a sample of a note sent to a contact who offered helpful advice:
Dear Ms. Smith,
Thank you again for meeting with me earlier this week to discuss your position with Wells Fargo and your experiences working in finance. Per your suggestion, I looked into the chamber of commerce business listing, and my research on local companies has already paid off. As a result of my research, I was able to arrange attendance at a networking meeting with local professionals. I made wonderful new connections and opened doors to a few potential internships in the Twin Cities.
Researching this group was a great suggestion, and I look forward to the opportunities it is sure to produce. Thank you again for your time and expertise. I welcome any additional suggestions you might have.
Be genuine in your interest in others and in your efforts to build connections. Remember that most human beings are thrilled at the prospect of helping another human being. You will feel especially good when you figure out a way to pay it forward. The Piper Center is here to support you through all the ups and downs of growing your professional network. Stop in when you need a pep talk, advice, or suggestions for whom to contact!