8.3: Building your Network

Caroline Ceniza-Levine and Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio

Build Your Network Every Day

Great networkers build their networks every day while keeping in touch with those they have already met. Networking is work, but the rewards far outweigh the effort you will expend.

The most effective way to build a network is to have a genuine interest in every person you meet. Most individuals know when someone wants to know them for what they offer versus wanting to know them for what they can gain from the relationship. Do not fall into that self-serving trap. Genuine interest in others is the impetus for building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships of give and take, with an emphasis on the give.

If you are just beginning to build your network, or if you want to expand the network you already have, consider the following exercise:

Quadrant I

High Willingness to Help

Low Relevance to Job Search

Quadrant II

High Willingness to Help

High Relevance to Job Search

Quadrant III

Low Willingness to Help

Low Relevance to Job Search

Quadrant IV

Low Willingness to Help

High Relevance to Job Search

Notice that the horizontal axis is relevance to job search. As you go from left to right, the relevance to your job search becomes stronger. Willingness to help is on the vertical axis; as you go higher, the willingness to help is greater.

Logically, you will want to expand your network with the people who represent the characteristics in quadrant II: high willingness to help and high relevance to your job search. These individuals include the following:

  • Career services directors, career counselors, administrators
  • Peers with whom you have good relationships and who could perhaps share information about their prior internships
  • Professors who are impressed with your abilities and performance and who have ties to corporations of interest to you
  • Alumni who want an increasing number of qualified candidates from their school to enter their company or industry
  • Past employers who were very satisfied with your level of work, who have contacts at firms in which you are interested, and so forth
  • Your relative who works in a corporation, but not in your industry, who may be friends with those who do work in your industry

Logically, you will want to spend the least amount of time with people in quadrant III because they have no relevance to your job search and are not willing to help.

Quadrants I and IV remain, and very helpful networking contacts could be lurking in both of these populations.

Quadrant I: This is an excellent resource for networking contacts because these individuals are very willing to help, but perhaps their relevance to your job search is not obvious or apparent. You never know who people know, so it is very much worth your while to get to know as many people as you can, no matter what the venue.

People in quadrant I include the following:

  • A neighbor might be best friends with an administrative assistant at the company in which you are interested and that assistant could easily share your résumé with hiring managers.
  • Someone with whom you are affiliated by attending a church, synagogue, or any other place of worship may have contacts in the industry in which you are interested and can arrange for an informational interview.
  • Your landscaper might have a brother who is a senior or top-level executive at the exact company in which you are interested.
  • A diner owner could have a close friend who is a hospital administrator and can arrange an introduction into the healthcare field.
  • A teacher’s spouse might be a vendor to the company in which you are interested.
  • Your dog groomer might have a neighbor who is a junior-level manager at a firm of interest.

The endless possibilities in this quadrant shouldn’t be overlooked!

Quadrant IV’s population could also represent fruitful opportunities, but you will need to ask yourself, “at what cost?” If someone highly relevant to your job search has a low willingness to help, could you turn that person around? What would it take? Often, it is best to funnel your energy and effort into the quadrants that will yield the best results: quadrants I and II.

Build Your Network Even If You Are Shy

If you are shy and the thought of networking wreaks havoc with your nervous system, certain strategies you can employ immediately will allow you to benefit from networking venues of all kinds.

Step 1: Observe the Networking Masters

We all know people who are natural networkers and who know how to work a room better than most. For those of you who are shy watch people who network effectively. Observe how they meet and greet a variety of people. Notice their body language, especially their smile, posture, handshake, and eye contact. You will naturally pick up pointers from these individuals.

Step 2: Pair Up with Someone Who Is a Good Networker

If you can pair up with a networking master, by all means, do. If you have a friend who is extroverted, ask them to attend an event with you and pair up to meet as many people as you can. This can be a very valuable adventure that results in meeting quite a lot of new people.

Step 3: Ask Questions That Get Other People to Talk Easily

You can ask seven questions that will naturally elicit a great response from a person you want to get to know:

  1. How did you get your start in this business?
  2. What do you enjoy most about what you do?
  3. What separates you from your competition?
  4. What do you see as the coming trends in this business?
  5. What is the strangest (or funniest) incident you have ever experienced in this business?
  6. What three or four critical skills are necessary to succeed in this business?
  7. What advice would you give to me knowing I want to get my start in this business?

(See http://www.burg.com for a list of exceptional networking questions, including some of the preceding.)

Step 4: Do not Take Things Personally

When you take the plunge and begin networking and meeting individuals, try to develop a thick skin and do not take things personally. Some individuals will not want to communicate with you, and that is fine. Move on to those who do. To a large degree, it is a numbers game, so the more individuals you meet and follow up with correctly, the more will join your network.

Meet People at Different Venues

Your college environment is rich with potential networking contacts. Earlier in this chapter, it was noted that everyone knows, give or take, about 250 people, and the more people you meet who give you access to their network of 250, the more you will multiply the people with whom you are connected. Here are some ways for you to network effectively:

  • Join school clubs: Some schools have over two hundred clubs—everything from business clubs to tennis clubs to Asian heritage clubs. Join at least three or four that spark your interest so you have variety in your friends and network. Club membership is a great way to get connected early on in your college career, meet people who have the same interests as you, and learn a tremendous amount. School clubs funnel information to their members about networking events, internships, and full-time opportunities.
  • Establish a relationship with career services: Get involved with this group early on. People in career services have relationships with all the companies that come on campus to recruit. Check-in with them in your freshman year and find out what opportunities exist and what the process is for applying.
  • Get to know your professors: Professors are human beings, just like you. Ask them about their backgrounds and how they ended up teaching at your school. Ask what they like about it. You will be surprised at what you find out. Some professors will have worked in the business world and will have some good connections for you. You never know until you ask.
  • Be curious about people and ask open-ended questions: When meeting someone new, ask them questions like “How did you pick this school?” and listen. A good listener is so hard to find. Open-ended questions often yield a story (sometimes a compelling story), and you learn quite a bit about a person. Ask about their family relationships. Be genuine because it is wonderful to find out about people, and you never know who they know or who their extended family knows.
  • Meet as many different types of people at school as possible: Your school presents opportunities to meet people from all walks of life. Try to meet the president of the university, various administrators, deans (the dean of students is a great contact because that person manages the school clubs), professors, teaching assistants, fellow students, cafeteria workers, the food truck vendor on the corner, the office supply store owner and clerks, the workers at your favorite coffee shop, security, library staff, and so on. Get to know these folks by (a) being polite and pleasant, (b) being responsible, and (c) recognizing them and knowing them by name. Even if your new acquaintances do not further your networking objectives, perhaps some will become friends and make your stay at school all the better,
  • Keep in touch with your old high school friends: Your high school friends are likely at different schools, but it is important to maintain contact. Your network will only grow this way, and you will enjoy continuing your friendships.

Networking is critical to your success throughout life. If you have not networked well before, it is now a good time to start.

Network with Executives

Your network should include people at all levels: your family and friends, past peers, and past managers. Follow these three suggestions to include senior people at all different levels in your network:

  1. Participate in cross-functional task forces in any kind of work or educational situation. You will meet people at varying management levels and also get the chance to impress them and include them in your network.
  2. Contact senior managers and thank them or compliment them on their presentation or speech at any other formal meeting. Mention something specific about what they said, especially if it helped you in some way (it increased your knowledge, made you think differently about something, gave you an idea to solve a problem, and so forth), so they know you listened and they know your comment is genuine. Continue to follow up with them in other ways (holidays, congratulate them should they get promoted, and so forth).
  3. A mentor, a wise and trusted counselor, can give you perspective that is very objective and, in some cases, powerful. They can also make great introductions, so don’t hesitate to explore this with them.

Network with Recruiters

Many job seekers feel uneasy about keeping in touch with recruiters and feel like they are being a pest. However, recruiters appreciate candidates who stay in touch, as long as it is in an unassuming way. For example, candidates should let recruiters know the latest news about them and their market, but should not include a request or a need with that news.

Industry professionals offer the following networking advice regarding how job seekers can stay in touch:

  • Build the relationship before you need anything. Xavier Roux, a partner at Redseeds Consulting, an executive search firm for management consulting, advises, “Strong candidates cultivate good relationships with recruiters when they are not looking for a job so that they can get help when they are.”
  • Do not be afraid to follow up about a specific position that interests you. Andrew Hendricksen, a managing partner with OP/HR Group, an executive search firm focusing on technology and new media advises, “If you are very qualified you should feel comfortable making one to two cold or follow-up calls no matter what stage you are in the process, but keep in mind too many will result in your being disqualified.…[Send] a follow-up action plan once you understand a hiring manager’s expectations. This works especially well for people in sales and marketing or any job that requires results. If you are considered a top prospect, sending a high-level yet well-thought-out 90-day action plan can put you above your competition.”
  • Contact people via social media after you have done the research and are fully prepared. Jennifer Sobel, a recruitment manager at Disney ABC Television Group advises, “Many job seekers are desperately trying to use social networking tools to search for jobs, which is a great idea. However, they are using the tools all wrong. I must get ten to fifteen ‘LinkedIn’ requests per day from people searching for a job at my company. Their requests usually sound something like this: ‘Hi, I don’t know you but would love to work at your company. Are there any openings for me?’ I would urge each job seeker to only reach out when they have identified an open position that they meet the minimum qualifications for.…Not having your research done beforehand comes off as lazy and it doesn’t give a recruiter any reason to help you.”
  • Remember that being helpful is a two-way exchange. Sarah Grayson, a founding partner of On-Ramps, an executive search for the social sector, advises, “It’s always impressive to me when candidates refer us other strong candidates and go out of their way to stay in touch.…It shows me that they know how to network and value relationships.”


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Introduction to Professional Development Copyright © 2022 by Caroline Ceniza-Levine and Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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