Today's blog post is authored by Catherine Ho, a recent Stanford grad and fundraising researcher at a large arts nonprofit. She spends much of her time networking, solidifying her long-term career goals, and advancing her interest in brand marketing. I asked Catherine to write a guest post after noticing her ability to ask thought-provoking questions on Twitter. (She also has a great knack for summarizing news and sharing interesting trends on Twitter.)
As you'll see, Catherine chose to wrote about a topic of interest to many of the job seekers that I work with--networking strategies for "introverts." (Thanks, Catherine!)
Transitioning into a new industry with little to no experience can be daunting. Over the last 2 years since graduation, I've taught myself the basics of successful networking. As an introvert, networking never comes naturally. It requires quite a bit of planning and mental preparation. I see too many of my peers dismissing the power of networking as they sit comfortably in their jobs.
Regardless of whether you are job searching or not, networking can open many doors. With a lot of hard work, I've been able to secure a few volunteer and part-time opportunities that will boost my work experience in my chosen industry. If you excel at what you CAN control, you can trust in yourself that key contacts will come out of the woodwork and see you as a dependable, eager, curious learner. Confidence is absolutely key for introverts.
Tools needed: Linkedin, Twitter, resume, professional organizations, and of course informational interviews. The informational interview has been the most valuable for me because it is widely accepted as a way to meet people and receive real insight about a company or industry. Your mileage may vary. Utilize what works best. Here are my five recommendations:
1. Take Chances
When in doubt, take every little opportunity given to you. If you are nervous of the meeting's outcome, just remember that the worst thing that can happen is that he/she says no to your request, in which case you'll move on to the next possible contact. Last month I was given the option of meeting a CEO of a food startup for an informational interview either over the phone or at their office. I chose to go to his office despite the fact that it was all the way across town and quite early before my workday. This decision made a world of difference for me. I was able to get to know the company culture, study their product packaging, and meet one of the CEO's colleagues. I was also less nervous than I would be over the phone. I'm now working with his colleague on a very exciting volunteer project that will give me valuable experience to show to potential employers.
2. Know Your Objectives
Know your objectives before each and every point of contact. Have an agenda prepared before your meeting and do your best to stick to it. Make sure it includes thoughtful questions prepared in advance in addition to your research of a company. During the meeting you can gauge what direction the meeting is going and shift around your agenda as you see fit. To research the company, study the latest press releases, Google News and Finance, note any major changes in investor news and stock prices. A great resource is your local business times, well as Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and other business-related periodicals. If needed, prepare rough phone scripts and key points in notes form. I sometimes get flustered over the phone, so this helps me with my confidence level because I don't have to think on the spot about which questions I will ask. Obviously, this structure requires a bit of effort and preparation beforehand, but it will allow you to guide the meeting with ease and confidence.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
As an introvert, I find that the only way to improve my networking skills is to have more face-to-face time with potential contacts. It has become a skill that I can turn "on" when I'm in the right mindset and about to enter a networking event. Strike a healthy balance of online and in person networking. Joining a professional organization is also a great idea. I'm an active member of a great professional organization called Future Women Leaders in San Francisco. It has helped me learn how to effectively network while learning key business skills in the company of similar young professionals. Develop a busy schedule of networking events, which you can often find advertised online. Practicing face-to-face made me more confident as a person and has positively affected my social life as well, which is a huge bonus for me!
4. Be Professional, No Matter What
Always be as professional, courteous and polite as you would want them to be with you, even if you think the meeting was a flop. Think positively and don't let your own perspective cloud your judgment because you have no idea what the second party is thinking. Apply all the skills you learned about personalized emails, prompt thank you notes, and common courtesy in full force. Always ask if there's anything you can do for your contact. You are not networking just for a job; you are networking to build a great group of trusted professionals you can turn to in future times of need. Demonstrate your maturity level and your awareness in the importance of networking, which is often unexpected in young professionals.
5. Trust Your Instincts
Be prepared for a lot of "no"s and non-answers. Realize that you will not always be able to connect or "click" with a person. Choose to cold-contact strategic people that you feel would be great to have and trust your instincts. Raid your alumni database. If you hear of a name mentioned by someone, research how to contact them. If you read an article by an author you find fascinating, find that person. Be persistent and proactive! It's easier these days to find people with LinkedIn, web search, and email. For the contacts that stick, update them regularly (quarterly is a good rule of thumb) with each major stepping stone or ask them out for coffee and a chance to get out of the office to catch up. This will keep you on their radar. Many people are impressed and flattered to be asked to share their knowledge and advice.
I have met some true gems through my networking, and I will never forget their kindness, taking a chance on me as I navigate into an industry in which I have little to no experience. Most importantly, be sure to pay it forward when you have reached your success! Best of luck.
You can find and connect with Catherine on Twitter: @catherinewithac