You put in a lot of effort to build your personal and professional network. While networking is a good exercise for building confidence and relationships, you probably want to get results from networking.
So, how can you learn about different careers through networking?
Follow these four steps to approach networking in a structured, strategic way that will help you learn more about the world of work.
1. Track Your Progress
First, you’ll need to track your networking progress as you go. Create a spreadsheet so you can easily gather names and contact information.
You’re free to create your own spreadsheet, or you can use a networking tracker template to keep track of “your people,” as well as what you learn from them. You can also chat with me to learn how to set up a solid networking tracker. I teach my clients how to create and use their networks, even when they aren’t pitching themselves.
Make notes in your tracker about why you want to contact this person now or in the future. Perhaps they know about a particular industry or field you find interesting. Maybe a friend, parent, or neighbor suggested you contact them. Or maybe someone thought they might have internships available.
At this point, you’re simply gathering and recording information. You’ll use this intel later!
As your network expands, you’ll add columns and additional sheets to track the information you learn. Be sure to update your tracker regularly with who you contacted and why, as well as the information they shared with you.
2. Regularly Reach Out to Your Contacts
When you first start networking, you’ll do general research. This will help you become more comfortable chatting with people about their career paths.
As your career interests and goals develop, you can proactively reach out to people on your contact list. Arrange short informational interviews as part of your career research. Ask them for guidance on internships, resumes, interviews, and any industry-specific concerns. You’d be surprised how many people will agree to meet with you!
If your contacts are too busy for a meeting but are willing to answer a few questions, send them two to three quick questions via email.
Remember, networking is all about building relationships, so you shouldn’t just reach out to your network when you need something. You can use your networking list to:
- Send holiday or birthday greetings
- Congratulate your contacts on promotions or awards
- Chat about industry news
The purpose of this is to stay top-of-mind with your contacts over time. By regularly chatting with your network, you’ll foster closer relationships where others are more likely to invest back into your career and future.
3. Follow an Outreach Formula
Not sure how to reach out to your networking contacts? Follow this outreach formula to start every conversation off on the right foot.
Use the right medium
What’s the best way to get in touch with your contact? Depending on who it is, you might want to reach out via phone call, an in-person chat, email, or social media.
A word of caution: if you’re calling them, have your introduction speech in hand so you don’t panic. If you’re writing to your contact, make sure their name and title are spelled correctly. When in doubt, do a quick LinkedIn search to ensure your information is correct.
Indicate your relationship
Next, share a snippet about yourself and why you’re contacting them.
If you’re reaching out to someone who doesn’t know you, you’ll want to say who referred you to them and why you’re reaching out. “I noticed on LinkedIn that you are a member of….” or “I’m interested in [such and such] and Professor [so and so] suggested you might have a few minutes to talk with me about your career as a [marine biologist].”
Write it out and practice saying it out loud! For example, “I’m a junior in college and as part of my research into careers, I would like to know more about your career path. My next-door neighbor, Charlie Green, suggested I contact you to see if you had a few minutes to talk with me.”
Have questions ready
Have a list of questions prepared so you can make the most of your chat. After all, you don’t want to look unprepared! A list of questions will not only help you stay on task, but it will also demonstrate that you take your contact’s time seriously.
You may be interested in what a typical day involves. Or you might want to ask them what they love about their job. Consider asking them how their own particular career path evolved. Maybe even ask them if there is something they know now that they wish they knew then.
If you’re doing an informational interview, you don’t necessarily need a formal resume for casual conversations. But do make some notes to yourself about your recent summer jobs or personal experience. Be prepared to share how you became interested in the work that they do.
P.S. If you’re doing an actual job search, you do need a resume ready to go if they ask you to send one!
Every conversation is a chance to learn something new. Remember to take notes about what you learned from the conversation in your spreadsheet. If your contact recommended following up with another person, reading an industry publication, or joining an industry organization, be sure to add those tasks to your to-do list so you can stay on top of your career research.
4. Always Follow Up
Relationships are built on a foundation of respect and consideration, so always follow up with contacts after a conversation. Send them a quick email thanking them for their time. Mention a piece of advice that you found particularly helpful, or that you will follow up on.
If your contact asked for your resume or suggested that you two stay in touch, always follow through!
Master the Art of Networking With a Career Consultant
Building and growing your network is a lifelong work in progress. Lean on your network to discover more about the world of work, as well as learn how, when, and with whom you want to connect. Follow these four tips to glean more value out of your networking efforts.
Networking can feel overwhelming if you’re new to it, and that’s where I come in. As a career consultant, I offer structure and support to the networking process so you can learn more about your career opportunities. Schedule your free discovery call now to jumpstart your career exploration.