Six Things I Wish I Knew About Networking As a College Student

When I was in college I couldn’t escape the word “networking” no matter how hard I tried. Everyone wanted to talk about how important it was, how easy it was, how it would help you get a job, etc. But I just didn’t get the appeal. Why would I want to e-mail a stranger (or even someone I knew) and ask for things? Awkward. Why would I want to go to some random event and hold a watery drink and talk to random people while wearing a paper nametag? No, thanks. But over the past few weeks I’ve realized that networking isn’t as formal, tricky, or awkward as I used to think. Here are a few things to think about when you get the panicky “anything but networking!” feeling.

1.) Two networking e-mails can have incredibly different results: Networking doesn’t have to be blatant or sleezy or

Flickr: Helga Webber

inconvenient for the other person. I wish I had understood this when I was trying to do it in college. Yesterday I saw a perfect example of good networking versus bad networking and it made me realize that networking, when done properly, actually works really well and doesn’t aggravate the person being “networked” (the person with whom you’re trying to network). On the flip side, if you do it poorly then you just make the person feel like a piece of meat and bad things happen.

The Good: I got a really nice Facebook message from a friend from college. He was two years younger than me and I had gotten him involved with the college radio station. He was asking what I was up to and explained that he was job hunting. He told me where he’d applied and what types of jobs he was looking for. He wrote some other nice, non-job things and thanked me for getting him started at the radio station. It was a sweet message from an old friend who happens to be job hunting in the industry in which I work. He didn’t ask me for anything. He just told me what he was looking for, and now he’ll be on my mind if I hear of a job he might like.

The Bad: I got a completely random Facebook message from a kid I was friends with in high school. We probably have not talked since I crossed the stage to graduate. I liked the kid in high school, but hadn’t heard from him since then. I have no idea what he’s been up to. The message was one sentence, no capitalization or punctuation. It said that he was looking for a job and asked if my company was hiring. I wasn’t offended that he so blatantly asked for a job. But he should have at least a.) asked how I was b.) told me what he was looking to do/what kind of skills he has/where he went to school/any kind of detail about his life  c.) expressed an interest in my industry. Right now I have no idea what he’s looking for, what he’s good at, or why he’d be a good fit for my company. Basically, I’m much more inclined and able to help Friend #1 than Friend #2.

2.) Tell the other person what you want: This is a subtle detail, but it’s really important. In your head you probably know what
you want. You spend a lot of time and energy working towards that goal. If you want to be an architect, you spend a lot of time working on being a great architect. If you want to be a graphic designer, you work on your designs and art every day. But when you’re just e-mailing someone or talking with them, he or she might have no idea what you’re looking to do. Maybe that person has the perfect opportunity for you, but he/she doesn’t know that it’s something you’d be interested in so he/she doesn’t think to suggest it. Don’t feel bad about verbalizing your dreams. Tell people what jobs and fields interest you, and where you’d ideally like to end up. This helps people help you better and is a better use of everyone’s time. I used to feel like I was being demanding or diva-esque when I was very specific about where I wanted to be. Not the case. It’s helpful because it gives people a better sense of what internships or jobs might interest you. Of course you shouldn’t announce, “Help me find a job at MTV. I want to be the next Carson Daly.” But you could say, “I’d love to work at MTV. I love their programming and the culture seems great.” or “I’ve always wanted to do on-camera work and have experience at my on-campus TV station.” You’re still expressing what you want, but the way you’re phrasing it makes all the difference. You’re not explaining why you’re entitled to a job.

3.) Do your homework:  People like to feel important. If you’re e-mailing someone, you should know a little bit about the industry and the person’s company and job. Early on in my networking career, I e-mailed a woman who graduated from the same program I did. I was asking her advice and trying to talk with her about her company. Turns out she hadn’t worked there for three years. Embarrassing. I hadn’t done my homework and now I’d created an awkward situation. She was very nice about it, but it wasn’t the best way to start a relationship. I definitely won’t be making that mistake again.

4.) Tell everyone you know about what you want to do: Since I’ve decided that I want to be a writer, I tell literally everyone I meet about it. This is because a.) I love it and b.) because you never know who’ll be able to offer advice or help. I was telling my uncle about my new career goals and he was able to set me up with a friend of his who is a successful freelance writer. If I hadn’t told him about my dream he wouldn’t have been able to make the connection for me.

5.) Meet as many people as you can: I used to focus only on people in my desired industry when I was looking to network. This is great and people in your industry are always great contacts. But sometimes it’s the people who work in other industries who end up being the most helpful. Everyone has friends or relatives, and sometimes these friends or relatives know someone (or are someone) who can help you find a job or an internship or advice.

6.) Don’t think of it as networking: I used to get SO NERVOUS when I was in a “networking” situation. These nerves would cause me to act super formal and weird. Then I started talking with alumni from my college radio station. I got really comfortable doing it, and then I thought to myself, “Self. This is networking. It just feels less formal because you all have the radio station connection.” Once I realized that it was possible to network without going into “OH MY GOD I’M NETWORKING!” mode I felt a lot better and was able to talk with people without be awkward and using unnaturally big words. If you’re networking, just be yourself. I probably wouldn’t advise using profanity or telling your networking partner about your drunken weekend antics, but let your personality come through. People don’t want to hire robots. You’re allowed to have a sense of humor and express interests. It makes you more likeable.

How do you manage the wide world of networking? Any favorite tips or sites?

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  1. I can’t say I’m super great at networking events, especially when you go to ones where everyone knows everyone. Those are the worst! Alumni events are usually easier because there’s a shared experience to talk about, and older alumni are always eager to hear from younger alumni. I’ve gone to a couple of alumni lunches that have been fun. When I was a senior I contacted several alums via email or Linked In, met with one, talked to a handful on the phone. They were all really great. Politeness is key. I never really said I was looking for a job, just that I was interested in learning more about their field and their experiences post-DePauw. The conversations usually turned to jobs naturally, and they usually turned me to other alums that might be of help.

    • ljmlevine says:

      Hi Sarah,
      I want to start going to alumni events in my city. My school does tons of them and I think you’re right, the shared school connection would make it easy to talk to people. From there I’d like to move to other types of networking events, but sometimes they feel overwhelming when you don’t know anyone! I know I’m 23 and I should get over that but it still seems daunting to walk into a room full of total and complete strangers. I’ll start small and work my way up. I agree, politeness is DEFINITELY key when contacting people for advice.


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