Make Networking Work for You By: Jessica Watkins
Make Networking Work for You
By: Jessica Watkins
Picture an ideal world: The job market is booming. College seniors are no longer having meltdowns about their (nonexistent) plans for life after graduation. Interest rates are up. Competitive fields like law and medicine just got a little less cutthroat and a little more accessible to deserving, hardworking students. Jobs are falling into the laps of career-seekers faster than you can say “unemployment.”
Now, back to reality. It stings a little bit, doesn’t it? Some jobs are not only hard to come by, but difficult to keep. For students fresh out of college, it’s no different – success is definitely possible coming from schools like Bryn Mawr and Haverford, but only after landing that first great internship or entry-level position. The important skills needed in a fast-paced career world are not limited to those needed within a specific position or field, but extend to basic knowledge of communication and people. Networking might just be the most vital skill you’ll ever need.
The beautiful thing about networking is that it can take place anywhere at any time. There is no telling when you’ll meet your next boss or bump into a long-lost family friend who just happens to know the CEO at (insert dream company/hospital/firm here). Of course, networking isn’t as simple as running into your next big opportunity – it requires the willingness to be proactive and determined to keep up a connection that could pay off in the long run.
My experience with networking came about almost accidentally when I decided to contact a Bryn Mawr alum I met at a discussion panel on careers in law. What started out as a question about patents and technology transfer quickly turned into an externship at one of the most respected medical research institutions in the US. Then the networking kicked in. I was given the name of a Swarthmore alum working in my area of interest at a company that provides technology and business services to scientists/researchers translating their technology into marketable products, a friend of the attorney I had worked with during my externship, and took off from there. Now, thanks to a cascade of contacts and referrals, I will probably be interning at BioStrategy Partners in Wynnewood this summer.
I could not have accomplished any of this without networking and the rich alumni and career resources we are given access to here in the bi-college community. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help your networking end successfully:
1) Be honest. If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn about something you have never tried before, say it! My networking came about simply because I was looking for an experience that would show me what a law/science-based career is really about. Employers will be impressed with your desire to learn and work outside of your comfort zone. Networking is useful for so much more than just finding a steady job. It can lead you to your next great mentor and really help you narrow down your search for what you want to do for the rest of your life.
2) Start early. Networking is easy once you get the hang of it (think of it as “making friends” with potential employers), but it will serve you best if it’s used to build up connections over time. The longer you’ve been meeting people, contacting their contacts, etc., the more options you’ll have when it comes down to following up on certain leads. And isn’t it always better to have options?
3) Once is never enough. Sending one email or making one phone call is not really “networking.” As mentioned before, the networking process is very similar to that of making friends. And what do you do when you want to turn a new friend into a good friend? You keep in touch; you talk to them regularly. Networking is no different. It’s important to remember that you’re probably not the only one jumping on opportunities as they arise, and you’re probably not the only one to ever ask for your contact’s card. No matter how memorable your resume, it’s easy to get forgotten in a swirl of applications and paperwork. The being said, keep up your connections! Drop them a line asking them how they are doing or updating them about your recent (and relevant) successes. Show your interest in their current work or research (which might require you to check up on their website periodically); ask them questions about what’s changing in your field of interest. An email sent once a month may not seem like a lot of work, but it pays off beautifully in the end. And don’t worry about being perceived as annoyingly persistent – chances are your contact will be impressed by how you remembered them.