I recently attended a Networking 101 event for Harvard undergraduates. As an alum, I was there to help students practice networking, but I was also there to recruit interns for my own company, Aquent.
It was a well attended event, with undergraduates from all years and alumni from recent graduates to old timers like myself! One of the first people that I ran into was my neighbor, Dr. Madeline Krauss. She’s also my dermatologist and I was able to score a ride home from her!
These type of events are always fun because you get to know people. I have, for example, known Dr. Krauss for nearly two decades. Her youngest and my oldest went to elementary school together. I didn’t know that her career was so varied until that night. She spent time on Wall Street as an Investment Banker after graduating from college and then went to medical school pursuing a career as a surgeon before turning to dermatology.
It makes perfect sense to me in hindsight because she runs her own very successful practice and her knowledge in finance and business is a huge advantage!
John Prince, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Engagement, at Harvard ran the event. He shares his tips on how to network. He also passed out handouts which I have summarized below.
Six Tips to Effective Networking
Networking 101 presentation can be boiled down to six tips. The event then allowed for a lot of practice with five minute increments to talk to people.
- Know that alumni want to connect with you! Networking = making adult friends. Alums want to share their experiences and give back to their college. Many, like myself, are also hiring managers and bringing in great talent makes us look good. There are also many different ways to connect to alumni. I think face to face is always best, and events like this are perfect because the alum are specifically there to help students network. Email is another way to connect to alum. It doesn’t always work. Ditto for phone calls. I also think connecting via social media is an effective way to reach out to alumni.
- Do prep work on your target — and yourself! Doing your homework to locate and analyze an attendee list will pay dividends. This will help you to scan name tags to note the people that you want to approach. Prepare your elevator response to who are you and what do you want to do.
- Networking events are a great way to start. Bring business cards for easy exchange of information. If you are going with a friend, split up. You can always meet up at the end to introduce each other to relevant new people. Alternately, you can introduce your friend to your new contact via email.
- Cultivate relationships over time. Approach every connection with an open mind and a genuine desire to learn. Don’t dismiss new contacts just because they are in very different fields. You never know who is in their own network. When you have the opportunity, give before you get. Say thank you to suggestions and don’t reject ideas that a new contact is recommending even if it is a little off-base.
- Ask for referrals. The best way to find other great people to talk with about your field of interest is to ask! Be sure to follow up on referrals in a timely manner. Once you have met or spoken with the referral, follow up with the person who referred you to thank them and let them know how it went.
- Follow up graciously and always send thank you notes! A handwritten note or an email recognizes the value that someone has provided to you. Always send a thank you note after a one-on-one meeting. Send your thank you note within 24-48 hours and be sure to proofread and individualize each note.
I personally find it challenging to network in large volume. I prefer to have less but more meaningful interactions where I can spend time just having a conversation to get to know someone. I also have trouble with transitions in terms of gracefully leaving the person I’m talking to. In this networking event, a bell was rung every 5 minutes to signal a changing of the guard. That was actually really helpful for me.
In terms of working a room, my college roommate, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is masterful at this. I used to watch her in action in college and marvel at her skills. A few things to imitate is her ability to be inclusive in a group conversation. She is always genuinely interested in the people that she’s talking to and can bring her relevant experiences to the conversation in a way that never sounds boastful.
How about you? Do you like networking? What advice would you give to undergraduates who are trying to learn to network? Thanks for sharing!
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