How to Grow Your Professional Network
By: Nick Santangelo
Once you get your degree, how will you leverage it to land a job? It’s a question that’s on almost every student’s (and their parents’) minds as they approach graduation. Most students—most people in general, actually—take the most obvious but perhaps least effective path first. They hop onto sites like LinkedIn, GlassDoor, Indeed or Monster and fire off resumes and cover letters scattershot at every job that looks like it might be a fit.
There’s nothing wrong with doing that. People do land jobs that way, but is it really the best way to land a job? Probably not. Employers like hiring people they know, people they’ve made a human connection with, allowing them to match a face and personality with a skill set. But how do you get employers to know you if you’re a college student with, at most, an internship or two’s worth of your professional experience? By networking, of course.
“The way employers hire is we start through referrals,” College of Liberal Arts Career Counselor Darvin Martin said Tuesday at a networking seminar in Anderson Hall. “We start with things like internal promotions, referrals, then we go to networking events, then we go to professional organizations, then we go to recruiting organizations. The last thing we do is we post the job because it costs money.”
Organized by Professional Development and the English Department, the event Martin spoke at was titled “How to Network,” but he actually doesn’t really like the term “networking.” Martin prefers to call it “relationship building because that’s actually what it is.” To that end, the 30 or so students in attendance got a chance to start building some relationships on the spot. Martin asked the students how many felt they were already great at networking. Five or six hands went up with one student saying she was good at it because she was “not really shy” and another saying “he can be really friendly” and had “no issue approaching someone.”
But with most students less confident in their ability to build professional relationships, Martin had everyone pair off and ask each other three questions:
- How do you want to change the world?
- What is something standing in your way?
- What are you going to do to overcome your challenges?
After 10 minutes of conversing with a partner, everyone then had to tell the group what their partner had said. Most of the students were up for the task, having paid close enough attention to what their partner said to be able to share it with the group.
A student named Kevin explained that his partner Eva wanted to get people to stop taking things for granted. Her introverted nature makes it hard for her to help make that happen, but she’s going to try and push herself outside of her comfort zone. Another student, Liz, wanted to make people be kinder to each other, explained her partner, Marvin. Liz has encountered people who were rude to her even if she was nice to them, but she’s going to try and be more understanding that everyone has bad days.
After the exercise, Martin had Neuroscience sophomore Heather DeSalvo and English senior Ishika Toor take over the bulk of the remaining presentation. Both have had success building rewarding professional relationships themselves and wanted to share their advice with students.
“If you’re not networking, you’re not working,” said Toor, who explained that students can start making useful connections while they’re still in college. She recommended they take advantage of resources like the Student Health Center, the Writing Center and more, explaining that it’s easy to find and get help from people whose actual jobs are to help students while they’re attending the College of Liberal Arts. No one should wait until they graduate and enter the workforce to start building professional relationships with these kinds of opportunities readily available around campus.
“Networking is growing and maintaining professional relationships that are rewarding for you and others,” said DeSalvo. “By networking you can find opportunities you didn’t know existed. You can create connections with people, get advice, be a positive influence and increase your confidence.”
DeSalvo was speaking from firsthand experience. She ended up on her current educational track by networking with someone from the English Department who introduced her to someone at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Now DeSalvo plans to attend there after completing her undergraduate Neuroscience degree at the College of Liberal Arts.
“Every meetup is an opportunity, so always put your best foot forward,” said Toor. “If you’re afraid of networking, look approachable, smile, be friendly, say hello to people, use your elevator pitch and try to find common ground.”
Making Your Pitch
Martin jumped in to ask how many students had elevator pitches. Only a few hands went up. But he then showed the audience a quick video of someone giving an elevator pitch. Martin noted that the woman giving her pitch led with an accomplishment, explained what she wanted and then told the person she was networking with why he should care.
Emboldened, a number of students got up one at a time to try their own hand at giving an elevator pitch. One student spoke of her time learning Italian at Temple University Rome and recommended other students study there too. Another talked about a novel he’s 200 pages into writing and asked for help funding the remainder of the book. The last student to present said she was shy to do so and tried to sit back down partway through, but her peers encouraged her, and she was able to get through her entire pitch.
For any students still nervous or unsure about networking, Martin had another piece of advice: ask meaningful questions and “always look for common ground.”