Networking 101: Four Things You Need to Know Now

“It’s all about who you know.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned at I Want Her Job, it’s just that: this community, our interviews and the very website you’re reading wouldn’t be possible without the incredible network we’ve grown and cultivated throughout the past four years. It is all about who we know.

It’s during this same evolution that I’ve developed a number of first-hand tactics to meet, create, and nurture relationships that last. Whether you’re looking to grow your network or start it from scratch—a little daunting, we know—rely on these four tips to set you ahead of the competition.

1. Create Your Nut Graf

In journalism a nut graf is the “why” in a feature article. While it can be anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph in length, it provides the direction of a story. Without it, the reader would be lost. You need to determine your own nut graf whe it comes you want in your career, and here’s why.

In my previous role, I worked at an advertising agency that not only had an outrageous name (hello, WongDoody) but encouraged us to mentor college students eager to join the industry. Through a proprietary website the agency owned at the time, CareerSparx, I was able to meet hundreds of young students.

One night, during a career networking event, something became very clear. Students had no problem saying hello, but beyond saying, “I’m about to graduate and I need a job,” there was very seldom an “X factor” they brought up that set them apart from the rest. And to be honest, they all started to blur together.

The same goes for seasoned professionals: you’re not immune to blending in. Whether you’re looking to company hop or industry swap, make sure you don’t just know why, but can clearly articulate the “why you should pick / help / mentor me” to the person you’re talking to.

2. Be A Friend to Make A Friend

I spent a lot of time getting coffee when I was looking to switch industries from public relations to advertising. And when I say a lot of time, I mean I could have been a Starbucks triple-platinum member, if such a thing existed. While many people think it’s simply enough to email a person once getting a business card or sending a resume over after being connected via Facebook, note this and remember: It isn’t enough.

In order to create the right kind of relationship when networking, you have to put the time in. You have to be of value to the person you’re meeting with, too. Many people you want to meet or work for will often agree to meet with you due to this thing called career karma. Thinking back on it, I can’t think of a time when someone said they wouldn’t meet with me. But here’s the caveat: you actually need to make time to have coffee with someone, show up as your best-dressed self and ask smart questions. A person is always going to want to hear about you and how they can help. Think on this ahead of time and come prepared.

To create a networking relationship that outlasts a favor, you need to invest the time into the relationship that you’d hope to get back. Extra points if you invest even more, as it never hurts to do that little something extra.

3. Raise Your Hand

Once you’ve connected with others and have built a network, utilize it. One of the best ways to get your heel in the door at your dream job—or any job—is to volunteer. For example, if you want to work in sports, maybe your contact in public relations doesn’t have a job available, but he could use your help for an upcoming game, event, or announcement. Raise your hand and volunteer. Even if you spend a weekend working for free, or pay out of pocket for a trip across the country, it won’t be soon forgotten if you simply show up and do a good job.

How do I know this? I was that girl who raised her hand with a mentor of mine, volunteering to work a July race at Daytona International Speedway when I was itching to get into the NASCAR industry. And it didn’t just work for me. We recently hired someone at my office after he went above and beyond in volunteering for our track over a race weekend.

Don’t be afraid to volunteer and remember that even if there isn’t a paid position open at the time, free ones usually are. These opportunities are a great way to be remembered and require less time than an internship. (Though we still recommend one of those if you don’t have one on your resume yet!)

4. Follow Up. Always.

While I’m a big fan of thank you notes and snail mail, I realize not everyone else is. That said, a handwritten note goes a long way. If you’ve met with someone for coffee or happy hour, or even if someone has passed along your resume for you, be sure to follow up with a personal note.

Not to sweat—it can be short and sweet. But in it, be sure to thank them for their time and assistance, mention something you discussed during your conversation, then end it with a call to action. Let the person you’re writing the note to know you’re going to stay in touch, send your resume, follow up with that article idea you were discussing, etc.

A thank you note is a great way to let someone know you appreciate and value their time and it’s also a great way to stay in touch. Think about it. You send a thank you note. They write back to let you know they’ve received it. In the meantime, you’ve found an article that you think they may be interested in. The conversation can go on as long as you and the other person are connecting and providing value to each other. And remember, you’re building a relationship with your network and you’re not just using someone to do a favor for you. Send along articles or links that your new friend may be interested in every so often or say hello on their birthday. You don’t always have to need or ask for something every time you reach out to a person.

What are your best networking tips? Tweet us what’s worked for you.

Image | Bloguettes