How to Network Smarter: Add Value First, Get Job Leads Second
Hey, college graduates — pay attention.
What follows is an interview I did with Megan Gebhart, a junior at Michigan State University. She is doing several smart things to position herself for rapid employment upon graduation in 2011.
There are at least three job-search lessons in the conversation below. Can you find them?
Kevin: Megan, you posted a discussion on LinkedIn about how you used your alumni connections to land three informational interviews. What did you do, exactly?
Megan: Last summer , I had an internship for six weeks in San Francisco. I thought, “This is a great opportunity to meet up with Spartan alumni in a different part of the country.”
I joined the Bay Area Spartan Alumni Group on LinkedIn and I created discussion by laying out who I was and what I was doing. I said, “I am a student with a Web site that shares alumni stories, called MSUCatalyst.com. If you are interested in telling your story, please contact me.”
I was very excited at the response. I received three e-mails from alumni who wanted to meet. I sat down with all of them and they were very helpful and informative. I wrote up their stories and posted them online. The greatest thing about this experience is that it showed me that alumni are interested in students, in sharing their advice, and staying in contact.
It motivated me to join more LinkedIn groups, send more e-mails, and contact more alumni.
Kevin: What do you plan to do with those three connections you made?
Megan: I don’t know where I will be after graduation, but I know I would love to be back in San Francisco. If and when I decide to do that, I know these are connections I would utilize.
The other thing I am excited about is staying in contact with those people. One of the people I talked to recently moved to Europe, where I am going to be this summer. I don’t know if it is possible, but if we could connect in Europe, that would be great.
In the end, you never know where these connections will lead, but it is great to have them just in case.
Now, here are three lessons you can take from what Gebhart did to find a job.
#1: Dig your well before you’re thirsty
The best time to build your network is before you need it. In Gebhart’s case, one year ahead of time is a great time to start networking to find a job.
But it’s never too late to add people to your network. If yours is not as large or vibrant as you’d like, get busy meeting (and re-connecting with) people you can count on.
#2: Network by being useful to other people
When Gebhart started a discussion on LinkedIn and offered to tell the stories of other alumni, she was offering to add value to them before ever asking for anything in return.
Most people, by contrast, get it backwards when networking. They are concerned about themselves and their needs. They ask questions like, “Do you know any good employers to work for? Is your company hiring?”
Gebhart asked, in effect, “Can we sit down for coffee so I can tell your story to others?” That is a disarming way to request a meeting. And, because everyone loves to talk about themselves, most people will agree.
#3: Know that most alumni are happy to assist students
When it comes to helping graduating students, alumni are like parents — we’re just waiting to be asked to help. If more young people reached out to alumni as intelligently as Gebhart did, more of them would find jobs faster.
The worst that can happen when you ask someone from your alma mater for help is . they say no. Big deal. Call the next person on your list until you make a connection. And remember to start all conversations by offering to add value — be useful.
When you do these three things, you’ll be networking smarter, not harder. And you’ll likely find a job faster.
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