Photo: Chris-Håvard Berge, Flickr
Networking is empowering. You’re able to help yourself while also helping others. You can learn so much and meet fascinating people. As a graduating senior, I’ve been told networking can help me find a job. But I began networking before I was looking for a job, and I think everyone should.
I’ve done maybe 50 informational interviews since my sophomore year. The more I’ve networked, the better I’ve gotten at it and the easier it has become. I measure the success of my networking skills by how engaging my conversations are, how much I learn, and how much others benefit from it. The more I’ve networked as a college student, the more I’ve learned you don’t need to be experienced to help others professionally.
I’ve gotten so many benefits from networking, so it was natural to wonder how much I’m benefiting others from our conversations. From speaking to other students, I’ve learned college students often have trouble finding ways they can benefit the professionals they speak to. They feel it’s a one-sided relationship. Over time, however, I’ve realized college students have a lot to give professionals.
I’m going to first discuss how students can help professionals by networking with them, then I’m going to discuss how networking can help you.
How networking can help others:
1. Listening and showing genuine interest
Just by listening attentively to someone and asking thoughtful questions, you’re showing you care about their work. You believe their work and their accomplishments are valuable. That in itself is a way of benefiting the people you speak to. People don’t always get the chance to talk about what makes them happy and what they’re proud of. Asking them about this is one way you can have an engaging conversation that is helpful to both you and them.
2. Expanding their knowledge
After you’ve spoken to someone about a professional topic, you can share information you think they’d find interesting. For example, you can send someone articles on the topic you spoke about, or you can recommend a book to read. As an undergraduate, you might have more free time to find interesting articles than they do. Use that free time to expand their knowledge on topics you both find fascinating.
3. Giving thanks
People sometimes underestimate the value of the follow-up. Thanking someone for their time and letting them know how much you enjoyed their conversation makes them feel rewarded. It can make their day.
How networking can help you:
1. Expanding your knowledge
You can learn a lot from speaking to professionals in a career you’re thinking of pursuing. You can learn what working in a field is really like. And you can learn about important initiatives in the field and which companies are the leaders in it. For example, I learned about Net Impact from a Brandeis alumnus I spoke to. This organization introduced me to a wealth of resources and a community of like-minded people. I went on to found a chapter at my school. Networking is the reason I knew about Net Impact. I don’t know when I would have eventually learned about it if it weren’t for networking.
2. Finding career direction
I’m majoring in business and computer science. Outside of software engineering, I wasn’t sure what computer science jobs were out there. By being curious and speaking to people who do other computer science-related work, I’ve learned about other job areas. I learned about business analysis, product management, and business management roles. I’ve realized I’m more drawn to these technology roles and am pursuing them for my first job. Speaking to people about what jobs are out there has been immensely helpful for defining my career interests.
3. Helping you get a job
I’m listing this benefit of networking last because finding a job should not be the focus of networking conversations. That being said, having a contact in an organization can help you stand out. Current employees can give you a referral to their company, and sometimes that referral can help your resume get noticed. It can help you get that first interview but after that, it’s all about what you know, not who you know.
Networking has immense benefits for both you and the people you speak to. You don’t need to be looking for a job to reap the benefits of networking. Exchanging knowledge is powerful and exciting. So, reach out to anyone who has an interesting job. And if you don’t hear back in a week or so and you really want to talk to them, follow up. Professionals are busy, so don’t necessarily take it personally if you don’t get a response. Most people I reach out to don’t respond to me, but when they do, it is always a rewarding experience. So reach out to anyone whose work fascinates you. Be engaged, listen, and learn.
This post was edited by LinkedIn Campus Editor Emily Reich.
About our fantastic guest author: Heather Spector is a business, computer science, and social justice student at Brandeis University. You can follow her on LinkedIn