Networking is Necessary
By Elena Ramlow
Graduate Assistant, Office of Career Strategy and Professional Development
As part of BGE’s Personal and Professional Branding Day, career strategist, Melissa Reitkopp, CEO and founder of Reitkopp Recruiting led a workshop on networking. With over 20 years of experience as an executive recruiter and expert knowledge on network development, Melissa was able to provide an outline on building professional networks from the ground up and recognizing their importance.
Networking can teach you:
- How your unique skills could be best applied to the field
- How you can better prepare for the workplace
- How to determine what type of work environment suits your preferences.
Networking: The Prequel
The networking process actually begins before you reach out to anyone. Creating a network is a multifaceted process, beginning with brainstorming: What career fields are you looking to possibly enter? What do you want to find out or gain from networking? Brainstorm both your soft and hard skills, and be ready to deliver a 30 second pitch for yourself, even in an informal conversation. Hard skills are subject-based knowledge, technical skills, and technology experience. Soft skills are your other attributes that make you a good candidate for the job. Even after crafting the scope and plan of your network, you still have one crucial step before meeting with your future contacts. Before going into any interview—and even better before you begin forming your network—google yourself. Do various social media platforms pop up? Does your online presence convey who you are in a professional manner? If not, fix that! We live in the age of information, so the first thing your potential new contact is going to do is look you up. Keep your LinkedIn up to date and active, use the internet to your advantage!
The Key to Networking: Informational Interviews
Informational interviews lie at the heart of building a successful network; by meeting with people in various fields, you can learn about the fields, foster relationships, and create interpersonal contact that could lead to future introductions. Remember that an informational interview is NOT a job interview, people are more likely to accept an invitation for an informational interview; if an opportunity comes up, that’s a bonus, but the purpose of an informational interview is information! So your future contact agreed to meet with you, now what? Although it isn’t a job interview, you should still prepare for it like it is. Craft a list of questions you hope your contact can answer—how did they get there? What was their path? Would they have done anything differently? Do they like their job? Where do they see current trends going and are there any sectors in the field that are expanding? When it comes time for the meeting dress professionally, in a suit or in what Melissa calls a “pseudo suit”, for women this means a dress and cardigan. The first impression is as important in creating a lasting contact as for getting a job, so make a good one!
Strengthen your Web: Keep in Contact
After your informational interview, it is important to keep in contact. Start by writing a genuine thank you note—not only is it proper etiquette, it helps you represent and express yourself and showcase your listening skills. Contacts developed through informational interviews and networking can always benefit you in the future, you never know what opportunity they might think of you for or other useful people they could put you into contact with! As you begin building your network and meeting with people, be sure to keep track of everyone. Build a tracking sheet, documenting who you meet and what they do—don’t just have the conversation and let it go. Write down anything they have to say, you can’t predict exactly what could be useful to you in the future! Record who you contact with and the outcomes in your tracking tool so that you can reference it if need be.
Los Tres Anillos: The Three Rings of Your Network
Melissa, in her years of helping people build their network, crafted the idea of your network being made up of three rings—Los tres anillos.
The Inner Ring
The first is a network we all already possess, even if we haven’t capitalized on it: our inner circle of family and friends. Although we may not think of them as professional contacts, they are working professionals, with various backgrounds, knowledge, and spheres of influence.
The Second Ring
Melissa describes these contacts as your colleagues, classmates, and people you know through professional channels. With your first and second ring contacts, don’t be afraid to reach out! Even if it’s been a while since you’ve seen or spoke to them, or you feel like you’re imposing by asking, it still can’t hurt to ask—you can’t build a network without reaching out.
The Third Ring
This is where you build a relationship not based on previous knowledge or contact. In today’s internet driven world, finding potential contacts in your desired field is as easy as a quick LinkedIn search.
Note: In speaking to your inner circle, the goal is to learn about the person, their role, and in general more about their field and where they think the economy is strongest. By doing this, you may discover opportunities you had never even thought about. Moving forward from the first ring, seek referrals to others you could speak to, either in your close contact’s field or one they have experience with. See the full list of requirements, deadlines, admissions FAQ, and apply online!
The Time is Now: Get Networking!
The main takeaway from the talk was that networking is absolutely necessary to finding the right opportunity for you. Simply having discussions with contacts through informational interviews can expose you to opportunities and jobs you didn’t even know existed. Utilize your networking opportunities to gather information on the field or job’s skill and education requirements, its jargon, and where the current demand is for work. The bottom line is that you never know what can result from even a simple conversation, so put your best foot forward and leverage every opportunity for networking! In Melissa’s words, the best way to find the career you want is to do the networking.
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