Networking Works (and You Will, Too)
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – It’s no secret that networking is a vital component of any successful job search. By some estimates, 80 percent of jobs and internships are found through referrals and word-of-mouth leads, according to Stacie Hagenbaugh, director of the Smith College Career Development Office.
Having a professional network of people who know what you are looking for in an employment opportunity is the trick to successfully securing a job in any economy, but is especially helpful now when advertised positions are in short supply, said Hagenbaugh.
“Informational interviewing isn’t mysterious. It’s talking to people about their work and career path and hearing their advice on getting started in a field,” said Hagenbaugh. “People generally enjoy talking about themselves.”
Yet, Hagenbaugh says, persistent myths often hold people back from networking.
The Seven Most Common Networking Myths
Myth #1: “Networking is only appropriate for people considering certain fields.”
Networking is useful for people considering any field – from an art history scholar who is interested in a career as a museum curator to an urban studies scholar who wants to learn about education policy research to clarify grad school plans.
Myth #2: "I’ll start networking when I’m looking for a job."
It’s best to begin networking before you’re actually in the market for an opportunity. Ultimately, it may lead to a great opportunity, but the main purpose is to build a network of people who know you and what you’re looking for over time.
Myth #3: "I don’t know anyone."
Parents, family, friends, alums, faculty, college staff members and internship supervisors are all contacts. Make a list of people you know in these categories. If you set the goal to make one contact a semester while in college, and kept in touch with them once a year, you’d have eight terrific networking contacts upon graduation.
Myth #4: "I have nothing to say."
You do need a reason for being in touch with someone. Contacting someone to learn more about their field or background is a perfectly good one, and affords lots of opportunity for discussion about your career goals and plans. Alumni especially enjoy offering advice and hearing the latest campus news.
Myth #5: “Networking only happens at a place of work.”
Be ready at all times and places with a brief personal introduction so that you can forge a new connection. Get in the habit of initiating conversations at lectures, meetings and conferences or while traveling. Create and bring your own networking card and ask people you meet for theirs.
Myth #6: “I don’t need to prepare.”
Know what to say and how to approach a contact. Some suggested questions: Can you describe a typical day or week? What do you like most about your field and what do you like least? How would you describe the culture at your organization? What are the key professional organizations in your field? How do you keep current in your field? Can you suggest one or two other people I might contact?
Myth #7: “We met, so I’ve done my part.”
The interview is just the start of your communications. After you meet, send a thank you note to the person within two days. Mention how the conversation expanded your knowledge of the field or cite follow-up steps you plan to take. If the person is an alum or friend, send a hand-written note. If the contact is less familiar, you may prefer to send an email.
Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.