People go on and on about the importance of networking to boost your job search, but networking can be intimidating. And it’s not always easy to understand why reaching out to a stranger will help you reach your goals.
Well, that’s just it: The act of reaching out is what people think of as networking, but it’s really the process of letting people know what you’re looking for that makes the difference. The benefits are not so much from the number of people you’ve contacted, but how many people know to keep you in mind for opportunities they hear about.
So, if the idea of walking up to new people in a huge room freaks you out, that’s OK! Try starting with the people you already know, who already know your strengths and skills, and seeing how they might be able to help you out. Here’s how to reach out to—and make the most of—the network you already have.
Friends and Family
The great thing about friends and family is that this is a group that you’ve (ideally) already given to and will be happy to help you. If your friends and family happen to be in your industry of choice—excellent! If not, they’re likely still an immeasurable resource to other people you can network with. You just have to let them know what opportunities (or what other contacts) you’re interested in.
To get started, tell those closest to you specifically what you’re looking for, whether that’s job leads, introductions to people at your dream company, or to be put in touch with people with interesting careers. (Our “Help Me Find a Job” email template is a great, non-awkward way to get started.)
Informal Mentors and Advisers
Even if you don’t have an official mentor, there are likely people in your life who have given you guidance and invested in your success—think the professors who took you under their wings in college, your former co-workers, or even your supervisor from your sophomore year internship. And it only makes sense to reach out to them with your current career-related concerns as well.
To rekindle these relationships and seek additional guidance, start with an email updating them on how you’ve been doing since you last spoke. (Update letters in general are a great way to stay in touch with contacts.) Finish up with an invitation to meet and catch up over coffee (your treat), mentioning that you would love to get some thoughts on your next big career transition. That’ll get your contacts thinking before you actually meet—and be much more helpful.
If you would be happy to help alumni of your school, it’s likely others would feel the same. So, this step is simple: Find your university’s alumni database, look for people in your field (or who work for your dream companies), and start sending out invitations for informational interviews to get advice on your career.
You’ll want to reach out to the people with the most relevant experience, but favor the ones who have similar experiences as you. For example, maybe you’re a transplant from the South who attended college in New England, like me—trust me, there’s an extra bond there. Don’t be hesitant to bring up connections like that, but make sure you explain that you found them (and the extra information) in the alumni database. (Otherwise, it can be a little off-putting to get an email from stranger with details like that.)
Networking isn’t about awkwardly calling strangers and asking for favors—it’s about getting your cheerleaders ready to go out and generate some buzz about you. So, reach out and let your network know what you’re after. Pretty soon, you’ll be a networking pro.
Photo of network courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author