ALL THE QUESTIONS YOU’VE ALWAYS HAD ABOUT BUILDING A NETWORK*
(*BUT WERE TOO AFRAID TO ASK)
The CCPA welcomes Rahul Munshi ’06 to our FORDS ON FRIDAY blog.
Rahul represents individuals in employment and civil rights litigation with
Console Law Offices LLC in Philadelphia. He is also the co-founder of the
Haverford College Lawyers Network. Thank you, Rahul!
First and foremost, you should know that Haverford’s own internal career resources are growing and developing at an exceptional pace. There is a tremendous amount of data out there through Haverford’s directories, affinity groups, and newsletters, among others. Use these resources – it’s a good time to be a student at Haverford College. Beyond what Haverford itself can provide, here are some thoughts I have about the thoughts that are probably running through your head.
- I don’t know where to start. I literally have no idea where to begin.
You’re a current student and you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your career for the next 50 years? Congratulations – you are probably in the 99.9% of 18-22 year olds who feel this way. So how do you start to figure out what you want to do after graduation?
First, learn what people do all day long. Lots of people work a huge portion of every single day. What are they actually *doing* all day? Find out. Scour the internet for information about different fields and specific jobs within those fields – not just job titles; actual job descriptions.
Here’s a typical interaction that I witness all the time, and not just between alums and students:
Person A: Nice to meet you. What do you do?
Person B: I’m a consultant in Philadelphia with XYZ Company.
Person A: Cool. How do you like it?
Person B: It’s good.
Person A: Great. Nice to meet you!
Absolutely zero substantive information was relayed in this conversation that you could not find spending one minute on Google or LinkedIn. Now you’ve actually met the person you want to talk to you, so take advantage of it. When you ask someone what they “do,” you’re not just asking their title. That’s easy. Ask what they actually *do* in their job. If you’re trying to figure out what field/area/industry peaks your interest, just learning someone’s title does not get you anywhere. People like to talk about themselves. Ask that person what he or she actually *does* on a daily basis; who they work with; the challenges of the job; the rewarding aspects of the job; how he or she got to this job. The more you know, the easier it will be to further pursue this field or cross it off your list.
- Why would a super successful and busy alum want to talk with me? I’m an average student with a regular background who has done nothing spectacular since the day I was born.
Well, that’s not exactly true. You’re a student at Haverford College, which is a pretty nice achievement in my book.
When Michael Gordon ’04 and I co-founded the Haverford College Lawyers Network, we worked off of one fundamental premise: current students and recent alums often believe that graduating from Haverford College results in a disadvantage in the job market because our alumni body is miniscule compared to many schools and we cannot offer the same level of resources as larger universities. This is a false belief that wrongly diminishes the power of community. I have found, especially as time has gone on, that this small community is actually one of Haverford’s greatest assets. We like to see each other succeed; we like to help each other out; we like to act as connectors for others in the Haverford community.
You’re not bothering an alum if you reach out and ask for advice. Chances are that the alum himself or herself got to his or her position through the help of someone else – perhaps even another Haverford alum. The desire to give back and help bring someone else up the ladder is extremely strong. Keep telling yourself this: you, as a student, are giving me, as an alum, an opportunity to give back.
Frankly, it’s extremely flattering for a student to say to me, “I want to do what you do. You are awesome. How did you become so awesome?” You saying that makes me feel good. People like to talk about themselves. I will carve time out of my busy schedule to talk about myself, and so will everyone I know.
- I changed out of my Haverford sweatshirt, put on my nice shoes, and got myself to a Haverford alumni event. What do I even do here?
Take some pressure off of yourself. The truth is that group settings are difficult. Think about dating reality television shows where one person is surrounded by a gaggle of potential suitors. They stand around awkwardly and try to shoehorn an intimate conversation into an atmosphere that is catered towards meet-and-greets. Don’t fall into that trap. Use this group event as a way to introduce yourself and get basic information about what people do (again, what they actually “do” and not just their title). Use this five minute interaction as a springboard to a fuller conversation set for a later date. Do not try to solicit real advice in this setting – it won’t work. Say to the person, “It was really nice speaking with you. Next time I’m in [insert city] would you mind meeting me for coffee so that I can learn more about what you do?” Or, “I’m really interested in what you do. Would you mind talking with me over the phone soon so that I can learn more? I can email you and we can set up a time.”
Keep in mind that when you go to these events, sure, some of the attendees will be more experienced and senior alums. But others will be your relative contemporaries – perhaps you even overlapped with one or two while at Haverford. Remember, they just went through exactly what you’re going through right now.
You see that boy over there who you sat next to in a class two years ago, and you know that he is working in the field/organization/industry that you’re interested in. You think, “Oh, he doesn’t remember me. I’m going to embarrass myself. He doesn’t want to talk with me. Forget it, I’m going to pretend like I didn’t see him.” Here’s the dirty little secret of Haverford College: He does remember who you are; and he does want to talk with you. Ask him how he got from that class you shared with him to where he is today. He will want to talk about himself. Did I mention that people like to talk about themselves?
- I love business cards. Why won’t anyone give me a business card?
You didn’t ask. Ask and you shall receive.
- Now I have so many business cards. What do I do with all of these things?
Save them ALL. Buy a rolodex if you have to. (Google what a “rolodex” is.) If someone hands you a business card he didn’t do it just because we order these things in bulk and we have hundreds of them cluttering our desk drawers and homes – though that’s true too. And you didn’t ask for a business card just to get the rush of excitement that someone is actually interested in you. You’ve made a connection; follow up on it. It may end up that you conclude, upon learning more information, that this person does not do *exactly* what you want to do. That’s fine. That person may know someone who does do something that you are interested in, and perhaps he or she will refer you to that person. Not only do people love to talk about themselves, they also love to talk about their friends and act as connectors for people. That’s how you build your network.
- Um. Now what?
Repeat. Research people. Reach out to them. Find out what they do and not just their title. Figure out if that is something you’re interested in. Ask them how they got there. Go to an event or a panel on a topic that interests you (and do not play on your phone the whole time – trust me, when you’re on the dais speaking on a panel, you can see who is not paying attention). Follow up. Repeat. Again and again.
As Rashidah Andrews ’02 recently told a group of current undergraduate students at a career development panel, “network” should not be used as a verb – it is a noun. Build your network from the ground up. If your ultimate goal is to find a job, know that many, if not most, jobs are landed because the applicant has a direct connection to someone at the organization. The days of rampant cold-hiring are coming to an end, if they haven’t already. Your name is your brand. Get out there and sell it.