Networking is a word in which most people despise; yet it doesn’t have to be that way. I used to be an extremely shy individual, but forced myself to attend networking events as an undergrad and now as a professional and full-time MBA student at Suffolk University. I’ve been to a few networking events, and actually really enjoy them now! I’ve learned some effective tips over the years, and want to share some with you to make it less nerve-wracking and possibly even enjoyable!
Do your research
Most networking and career events will, at a minimum, publish a list of the companies and schools attending ahead of time. Some even publish a paragraph or two describing the positions open and what the company does. Go a step further, and research the companies you are interested in by visiting their website, social media channels, and researching the jobs available. I always make a list of the top companies I want to visit, and if there is a map available mark out my strategy for the career fair. Most only last a couple of hours, so be conscious of the time limit.
Know your end goal
People attend career fairs and networking events for different reasons. As a student, it is probably to obtain an internship or entry-level job after graduation. As someone with five or ten years of experience, it might be to expand your client base or referral base. It doesn’t hurt to write out what you hope to gain from the networking event, and then apply this list to potential companies, which will help you achieve this goal. You can even put it into quantifiable goals. For example, your goal might be to obtain ten new referrals, which would include business cards and reaching out for a meeting afterwards.
Practice your pitch and introduction
This is probably the most important tip I can give you! As stated above, your goals will be different for different stages of your networking career. During my undergraduate career, I would go up to most companies and introduce myself and state I was looking for a summer internship in accounting. After spending a couple of years in the public accounting profession, my pitch changed to my introduction and offering my accounting services to those companies I sought out. Even if you are in between careers or jobs, like I am, you can still have a successful pitch! Nowadays, my pitch is “Hello, my name is Jessica. I’m a full time MBA student at Suffolk University, and after spending four years in public accounting am interested in transitioning to a global supply chain management career.” It can be as easy and straightforward as that!
Engage in small talk
This largely depends on the time constraint and number of employers and companies at the networking event. I’ve attended career fairs at colleges, which were limited to a strict two hours, included over seventy companies, and always had lines for each company. At these, it was hard to engage in small talk, but I always made sure to have a smile and say please and thank you. If the networking events are more lax and more informally set up, definitely engage in small talk! I attended a networking event for Jewish lawyers and accountants last spring, and introduced myself to people as Cynthia’s granddaughter. I would always ask them their name, and if something they said sounded interesting I would ask open-ended questions. People love to talk about themselves, and it puts you in a better light as well!
Business cards and following-up
Oh business cards- some people love them, some people despise them. I personally think they are outdated, but at the same time are lifesavers at networking events! I always ask for someone’s business card, whether they offer one or not. I also picked up a very useful trick a couple of years back: whenever you can spare a couple of moments, go to a quiet area or corner and write a note on the back of the business cards. For example, if you had a good conversation about your trip to Hong Kong with an employer, write it down! This will not only help you remember your conversations, but will also help with those follow up emails and help you stand out from the others.
I always follow up with employers and contacts I made at networking events via e-mail, especially if I am interested in carrying on the connection. When writing the e-mail, keep it short and simple. In the subject line I put “networking event at (location) on (date)”. In the body of the e-mail I usually just say “Hello Mr./Mrs., it was great meeting you the other day at the networking event. I enjoyed speaking with you regarding (etc) and especially about our shared interest in (something unique). I look forward to staying in touch with you!” I also recommend connecting with that person on LinkedIn. If you want, also add in the e-mail you’d like to meet up for coffee in the next couple of weeks. The worst they can say is no!
Like anything new, networking can be tough and nerve-wracking. I also treat networking as a chance to meet some cool new friends and acquaintances. The worst that can happen is you don’t meet anyone and don’t get any contacts. The best? You walk away with a job, a new referral, and even some great friends. I also recommend practicing your networking skills in all forms of life! For me, it’s practicing when I go to a bar, am on a train, or at a mutual friend’s birthday party. You never know who you might meet and when, so it’s always good to network and to practice!
– Jessica Abramson, MBA ’17