For some, the thought of heading out into the real world to engage with professionals is terrifying. For others, take myself for example, that’s motivating. Networking should be continuous and, if done right, can lead to great things for your future career. This is something the professors and leaders at my school, Kent State University, promote endlessly, but this may not hold true at every college. I want to share five tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me network effectively.
Introduce yourself. Take full advantage of every opportunity you come across to get your name out there. Whenever possible, introduce yourself to professionals. Some of the best experience I’ve gotten in this realm is introducing myself to pros who come to speak at my classes. This is prime time to take that extra minute or two to shake their hand and begin the networking process. Rather than waiting until the next internship fair (which can be busy and hectic), use the small class environment to your advantage. The professional will be more likely to remember you if you meet in a one-on-one setting and are polite and ask thoughtful questions.
Reach out. Maybe you don’t get the opportunity to meet a professional in person very much, but you still want that all-important introduction. One great way to do this is to connect on LinkedIn… most of the time. Before sending an invitation, it is smart to do some research on the person. Some pros may reserve their LinkedIn profiles as more of an exclusive network than others. However, from my personal experience, they are almost always eager to meet enthusiastic and hard-working PR pros in training.
Engage. Throw yourself out there, be active on social media and be known. It’s important to remember to always engage in a professional manner, but it’s okay to add personality to your personal brand. One way to almost guarantee getting noticed is to share a professional’s work, such as a blog post, on social media and tag them. But engaging for the sake of engaging, or in the hopes of a retweet, isn’t a best practice. You should know whom you’re @tagging and ensure the tweet is personalized by adding positive feedback. In addition, having a legitimate interest in developing a relationship with that professional is crucial. Most of the time they’ll notice and, at the very least, they’ll favorite it or retweet you. Similarly, this method worked extremely well for me last summer when I wrote reviews on country music. After doing some research and developing specific tweets, I received favorites and feedback from one record label CEO and a number of songwriters for my review of an Eli Young Band song.
Get involved. I know this sounds very generic, but it’s completely true. Whether it’s a student organization, professional organization (such as PRSSA) or Greek life, there are always networking opportunities. Above all else, you’ll develop some great friendships and hone leadership skills that will help you through life.
Be appreciative. Remember to stay humble and have humility throughout all of this. Never forget that, like you, these professionals are real people too. Always be polite and use your manners and common sense when engaging with them and, above all, appreciate their time. Professionals of all levels are extremely busy, and the fact that they take time out of their day to answer your email or accept your LinkedIn invitation is an accomplishment in itself. Of course, they were students once, too, and are usually happy to offer a word of advice or encouragement.
What networking tips do you have? What has worked for you to build positive relationships?