Written by Dillon Alexander
As students, we think that we would like to enter an industry, but we have no real, full-time experience or perspective to make an informed decision. How do we bridge this gap in understanding? The reality is that we can talk to any person, in any field, with no risk, and nearly no rejection. Why aren’t we utilizing this resource more often? The answer is because it is difficult, awkward (at first), and time-consuming. This article will hopefully give you a framework to begin building your network with courage, while figuring out what it is you would like to pursue professionally.
- Be Courageously Compassionate
In any situation, when talking with someone in an industry you might want to work in, do not be afraid to show your personality to its fullest. Build a relationship that you can continue to pour into over a period of time and share ideas and perspectives. Whether this person is a student at another school who is interested in your industry, or a professional already in it, show them that you care about them! Professional relationships are built on trust and confidence in the other person’s ability to have your back and provide emotional and professional value to you. So how can you go about starting this process? Read on.
- Informational Interviews
Informational interviews can be intimidating, but this is one of the best, low risk ways to learn about an industry and all it entails. A great way to do this is reach out through LinkedIn or email to a professional in a field that you are interested in, simply stating your affiliation with a university or company, and then stating your purpose of learning more about what they do over the phone or in person (depending on location). Personally, these conversations have to lead to some great relationships and individuals in the industry that I can look up to and continue to learn from, even a few years out from graduation.
- Providing Value to Professionals
This is hard! As a college student, we often do not have the resources that are available to a professional to aid them. One unique way in which you can do this is simply prepare a slide deck with the purpose of solving a problem or issue that you see in your desired field. An MBA student out of the San Diego State University Sports MBA program sent a presentation to the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding a “Golden Ticket” 50th anniversary promotion which was picked up by the team almost immediately- needless to say, he was hired right after of graduation.
- Building a Relationship, Not Just Starting One
Maintaining a relationship with a professional must be navigated carefully, as not to disrupt their work, but also to maintain relevancy in their minds if you do care about them and what they do. One way to do this is by sending physical thank-you notes directly after speaking with them; this will leave a lasting impression of you in their minds. Another way to do this is not simply reaching out to them saying hello to stay in contact over time, but rather offering a question or a compliment on their business that you have seen over LinkedIn or other news or social platforms. When congratulations are in order, deliver it. Be creative and do not be afraid to start early! The younger you begin networking within an industry, the more impressed professionals will be with your ability to be bold and shake up the culture.
- Leverage Your Conversations
If you have a phenomenal conversation with a quality person, odds are they have friends or coworkers with other quality people. Ask if there is anyone else you can talk to in order to learn more about the industry you are interested in. If there are any other resources that they can give you, books, advice, events, conferences, networking sessions, etc., utilize these resources. They are given to you for a reason. Leverage these relationships to put yourself in a position in which you are well-informed and well-connected with the industry.
With all of this being said, networking is a process. Networks are not built overnight, and must be carefully cultivated over years of active participation and constant effort in maintaining relationships. When you are looking for your first job, you will be happy that you went out of your way to confirm passions you have, as well as find mentors and people you can look up to in the business.
Now it’s your turn. Best of luck!