Building Stronger Connections
An imperative of college (besides passing classes) is building a professional network. Some estimate that 70 to 85 percent of jobs are filled by networking. Unfortunately, many students simply add people on LinkedIn and call it a day, hoping some job offer will appear on their timeline. The better way to network is to create quality relationships on the basis of a genuine connection. Here are a few tips for strengthening existing professional connections like colleagues, classmates, or professors.
Embrace Not Knowing; Ask Questions!
When young, it can be tempting to present a cocksure front, but overconfidence or fear of asking questions leads to mistakes. Instead, embrace the lack of knowledge as a way to get to know someone in your network better. Ask them about the company, industry, or personal experience. Everyone has history.
In my experience, most people love to feel like a mentor and divulge the tough lessons they’ve learned. Just be sure you don’t come off as naïve—don’t ask questions you already know the answer to just for the sake of asking.
Keep in Touch
This will require a different method of communication depending on the relationship. For newer, weaker connections, begin by commenting on their LinkedIn posts or other social media updates, and consider tagging them or privately messaging them when posting something that may be relevant to them; for older, stronger connections send a text or e-mail every few months asking for updates on their work, or get together for coffee twice a year. Maintaining these connections will allow you to stay up-to-date on them, their companies, and the industry at large.
You may find it useful to set a reminder once a month to check in on your network; who haven’t you spoken to in a while?
The level of intimacy will grow and change as the relationship develops, but remember to keep it clean: congratulate them on promotions, anniversaries, or even a new baby or marriage, but do not comment on anything that could be interpreted as rude, crass, or offensive.
We reach out to others because we feel that they have information or experience in a subject or skill we would like to know more about, but professional relationships shouldn’t be one-sided. Even if they are willing to be a mentor, always give back to them: what’s a unique skill or experience that you offer? In many cases, it may be your age. Companies are always looking to reach the next generation, and as a student or recent grad, you provide the insight they need.
Also, help them connect with others! One of the benefits of a network is passing opportunities and contacts down the line. If they are looking to learn more about a topic or employee but you don’t have the knowledge or time, direct them to someone you know that does. Eventually, one of your contacts will direct someone to you. This tactic, in particular, will become easier the larger your network grows.
Finally, Have Integrity
No one likes a flake or a fibber. Do what you say you will, or don’t agree to attend the event or review their work in the first place. Do not claim to know more than you do. Display genuine interest. No one wants to work with a jerk, so don’t be one.
Now, go talk to people!
Work these tips into your daily life and practice them consistently. Eventually, your network will develop deep roots and flourish. Take stock in a year and see how your professional life has evolved!