Networking is important. Probably one of the most important skills you’ll use. The MIT Career Development Center collects statistics on the number of students who got their job through networking, on-campus recruiting, direct applications etc. Less than 20% of students got their job from a direct application to an employer. Everything elsethat they collect information on is some kind of networking. The only rule of networking is to talk to people. Well actually, there’s a little more to it, but that’s probably the most important rule. Networking can help you find an internship, a job or just find people to talk to about what you may want to do in the future.
Rule No. 1
Don’t be a afraid to put yourself out there
It’s up to you to start forming relationships. Ask the people you know for help. This may be your parents, professors, friends, or GRT (graduate resident tutor). They may know someone who works in the field you are interested in, went to the grad school you are looking at, or maybe just someone else who has these contacts. Ask your professor for their contact list (something you too should start forming) and for suggestions on who to talk to. Don’t be afraid to go talk to people at career fairs, even if you aren’t looking for a job yet. They may not have a ton of time to talk you right then, but you can always follow up with them later. Find people with MIT connections who work at companies that you are looking at. The MIT connection is a great way to find an in. You have to make the effort to begin making connections, they don’t often just fall in your lap.
Rule No. 2
Don’t be afraid to talk to people, no matter what their rank is in comparison to yours. You have a lot to say. Granted, not all of it may need to be heard, or be correct, but you needn’t be afraid to speak up and talk to people. Ever heard of the elevator pitch? The idea is that you happen to be in the same elevator as the CEO and you have the length of an elevator ride to pitch an idea. You can’t get someone to remember you if you don’t talk to them. Ask them questions about they do, and any pressing questions you have.
Rule No. 3
Well, not during the conversation, but if they give you a business card, write down some notes on the back. Or keep a notebook of the people you have spoken to. Or make a contact list. Whatever will keep you organized.
Rule No. 4
If you don’t follow up, you have as good as fallen off the face of the planet. Day of, or day after, send a follow up email. Remind them what you spoke about, ask a follow up question. Just something so that they have a record that you spoke. Linked In is a popular professional social network and is a good way to maintain a network
Rule No. 5
Use your contacts
The whole point of networking is to create a network so that you can actually use it. The hard work comes with the first four steps. When you contact people again, some may not remember you, some may need some prompting, some may never reply, but most will. Most people are happy to help.
Basically, keep in touch with people, talk to people, ask people questions. Be proactive. People will be amazed by your networking abilities. You can choose whether to let them in on your secrets.