by Ross Wade, Elon School of COM Career Guy
1. What were your initial feelings about networking? What did you know about networking before meeting with your career counselor?
I always knew networking was an essential skill to have, especially in the communications field. As such, I always looked for opportunities to talk to professionals whenever I had the opportunity, whether that was making sure to ask questions when guest lecturers came to class or meeting up with filmmakers at film festivals. However, it was never something I felt particular strong at doing – putting myself “out there” was never something I felt comfortable with, even when I willed myself to do it. However, the Internet, when employed properly, showed me that networking could be a very casual and natural thing to do. I was surprised to learn how often I’d hear back from people I’d contacted just to “ask a few questions” about the industry I was going into; people really are willing to give you their time. LinkedIn especially dramatically changed my success with networking.
2. How did you feel contacting professionals at first? What was their response to you contacting them?
Well, as mentioned above, I was pleasantly surprised my success rate at hearing back from professionals – I’d say about half the time I’d get a response. Of course, that never changed my nervousness with contacting them. I’d check and recheck emails meticulously to make sure they were professional and polite, and when I wouldn’t hear back for a couple of days, I would assume the worst and that I’d offended the person I’d tried getting in touch with. However, after I heard back a couple of times from people, it really gave me more confidence, showing me that yes, people were willing to be contacted, and yes, I could write an email worthy of response. I also would always try to run my emails by someone – usually Ross Wade or another faculty member I felt comfortable with. That was always great for finding points in my email that weren’t clear or could’ve been approached better.
3. What were your networking steps and what was the result?
My greatest networking success is due in large part thanks to LinkedIn, Ross Wade, and a little luck. While looking for potential places to work I stumbled across the place that seemed perfect for me in Los Angeles. Eager to figure out how to get my foot in the door with the group, I went to Ross for advice. He suggested I use LinkedIn to get into contact with a recruiter at the company who happened to be very well connected. After joining an interest group which she also belonged to, I was able to send her a message across LinkedIn, asking her if I could take some of her time to ask her questions about her company and its place in the industry. Fortunately for me, she responded and said she’d be glad to talk to me on the phone. The conversation went well, and afterwards I made sure to drop her an email every now and then updating her on work I’d done (she had invited me to do so) and questions about the industry just to keep me fresh in her mind.
A few months later I was going out to LA to visit a friend, so I made sure to get back in touch with my contact to ask her if I could take her out to coffee to thank her for all of her help. After having some initial trouble getting in touch, we finally spoke a few hours before I had to leave for my flight and, as luck would have it, she mentioned that they had an open designer position and wanted me to come in and interview for it. It was a great stroke of luck, but I learned that by staying vigilant while keeping patient (a nerve-wracking balancing act, for sure) with your contacts, they’ll usually get back to you, and sometimes with unexpected results.
4. What are some networking tips you learned and would like to pass on?
I mentioned above that it’s a tricky balancing act you have to play between being patient and being vigilant with your contacts. I get hesitant to send a follow up email when I haven’t heard back from my contact because I don’t want to pester them, but the truth is that sometimes your emails can just get lost amongst their busy days and a reminder email is all they need to get back to you. You have to judge the situation for yourself in most cases, but if they’ve been receptive to you in the past you can probably be confident they’re not trying to ignore you or give you some hint by not responding later.
Just remember to always be as concise as possible and be respectful of your contact and his/her time – nobody wants to respond to someone who comes off as being “owed” a response. At the same time, let your voice come across as confident and don’t be apologetic without needing to be (i.e. “I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience, but I’d love to hear your thoughts…”). Put on your polite hat, break out your best writing and you’ll put yourself in the best place you can for getting a response.