I met Ming Yong at the University of Connecticut (UConn) School of Business this past September. He was one of those brave souls who came up to me following my speaking engagement on the topic of Everyday Leadership. (Read the blog post that arose out of that event – Are Leaders Born or Made?)
Impressed with Ming Yong’s courage and professional demeanor, I gave him a copy of my book, Networking Ahead for Business, and encouraged him to send me a LinkedIn invitation. He acted on both of these suggestions, including reading my book and sending me his two top take-away points.
Below is an excerpt from his LinkedIn message to me, sent two months after we first met:
“This follow-up might come a bit late but I have finished reading your book. I have gained quite a lot of networking tips from it. The most important takeaways about networking for me are:
1. Importance of showing up and following up (I am usually at a loss of how to follow up a networking contact after getting their cards)
2. Networking is about helping others and also asking for help. ( I normally do not like to do the latter because it makes me look needy. I am afraid the other party might feel I am making use of them)”
Ming Yong then hit me with this networking question:
“I have interest in connecting with people of higher level than me and learning from their experience, perhaps from a coffee session. However, sometimes I feel that I do not have much to offer them and thus I do not make the approach. How do you suggest I go about doing this? “
I dedicate this week’s blog post to Ming Yong and to other college students – our future leaders who will soon be entering the workforce. Let’s help them pre-launch their careers, by facilitating the networking process for them!
Here are nine tips for building your networking success, and taking you from college to career:
- Believe in yourself. First of all, I want to remind Ming Yong and all college students that you have a great deal of value to bring to the networking table. While your work experience may be in the developmental stage, and your professional network is still building, your energy, perspective, ideas, and hustle are very valuable to other working professionals. Never sell yourself short.
- Assume you can be of service. Remember to always ask at the end or sometime during the networking discussion: “How can I help you, or someone in your network?” Listen carefully and be willing to help others who are important to the person you are networking with.
- 3D networking is best. Coffee sessions are terrific networking environments, because they are face-to-face. When you network in person, the opportunity to make a deeper connection is greater than meeting online or over the telephone because you can read body language and have a fuller experience of each other. Meeting for coffee is generally more relaxed than an official business meeting at the office. The downside of networking over coffee is that it takes more time, costs more money, and can over-stimulate you with caffeine. If time is an issue, suggest a virtual coffee networking over the telephone (or virtual wine networking call, if in the evening).
- Dress for the job you want (not the one you have). Your personal presentation (including clothing and grooming) sends a big nonverbal message to the people you are networking and interacting with. Take care to dress for success when networking with anyone. It is part of how you show that you respect and value their time and effort to network with you. Dress like the professional that you intend to be.
- Manage your digital presence. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, get one. It’s mandatory these days, even if you haven’t yet graduated from college. You need to establish yourself professionally using the largest career repository – LinkedIn. Never use a cap and gown graduation picture of yourself for your LinkedIn profile photo. That just shouts, “Newbie – no experience.”
- Think of one thing to ask for. Prior to the networking meeting, you should be prepared to make one specific ask of the person. Do not ask them to mentor you – this is too big of an ask. Don’t’ ask for advice – that’s common place and may not be what you need. Instead, ask them to connect you to someone else in their professional network. You should leave each networking meeting with another connection that will help you build your sphere of influence.
- Request for a facilitated introduction. If you know who you want to connect with, ask them if they know that person or know someone who knows that person. Specificity is the key to networking success. If they say yes, then your next question should be: “Would you be willing to facilitate an introduction for me?” Encourage them to use active communication channels to make this happen for you. For example, bringing you along to a 3-way business lunch is better than an email introduction. An email introduction is better than just giving you the contact details, and having you call on your own, using their name as a reference. Having them make a telephone call on your behalf plus sending an email introduction is better than ….well, I personally love that combination. All you have to do next is promptly and professionally follow up with this new connection, and see where that leads you!
- Stay in touch. This is critical. When someone goes to the effort to make an introduction on your behalf, you must follow through as professionally as possible. Otherwise you risk betraying their trust and forever locking yourself out of their circle of influence. Remember to stay in communication with the original connector, providing periodic updates to your progress. Show how appreciative and classy you are by sending them a handwritten thank you card. Note: sending a text or email may not enough to endear them to you.
- Pay it forward. Build networking karma by facilitating important connections for other people. Yes! You have connections that can help others, too. Learn to lend your social capital. It’s a great career investment vehicle. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun!
Final note to college students: I believe that as a college student (or even a high school student), it’s never too early to start building your professional network. And while there are best practices for networking, it is a very individual thing. You can do it your way and be successful. The importance is that you do it on a very regular basis. Think of it as part of your lifestyle. Do it daily. Make it part of who you are. Be a connector.
Final note to working professionals: We have an obligation to help our college age friends learn how to network before they get into the workforce. Knowledge and degrees are not enough. Young people must know how to make connections and build relationships to be successful in their careers. Let’s help them. Let’s inspire them to pre-launch their careers – start networking NOW!