connection

An Introvert's Guide to Networking

As a college student, I am often asked 3 questions:

What do you want to do with your life? (Yikes.)

How do you intend to get there?

Who do you know who will help you achieve that goal?

The first question is huge and sometimes overwhelming. The second question is also big and confusing, and requires a lot of Providential input. But the third question— this is the one I have the most control over, and the question which has the potential to control the other two. 

The pressure of building a solid professional network is already present in the minds of career-seeking students. But it can be difficult to get out of your comfort zone to speak with someone new. You're not alone if you find networking scary, pointless, or confusing. Here are a few reasons to network, and some tips for doing it well.

Prepare

Before you enter a professional event or social situation, ask yourself what you want to walk away knowing. For myself, I always want to walk away knowing a person. I desire to know where she is in life, how her past led her there, what brings her joy, and where her hopes lie. In short, I desire to establish a relationship by knowing and being known by another. At the end of a good conversation, I will exchange contact information with the individual in order to maintain the relationship, and BAM! I have inadvertently added a real person to my network..

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. We typically make friends by falling into conversation about some mutual point of interest, and if we want to keep in touch we will exchange phone numbers. Networking does not just mimic relationship-building; it actually is relationship-building.

If you have friends, you can network.

I would advise introverts (and, well, everyone) not to enter a professional event with the intention of building your network. With such an intention, the people in the room may become “potential connections” rather than people. Conversation goes differently if you are eager to display your resume and inquire about job opportunities. Often, people can tell when they are being used as a means to some end. They do not appreciate it, and ultimately neither will you.

Talking to People

This might be the scariest part. To ease your nerves a bit, feign confidence up front. Stride toward an individual or a small group, depending on what you are most comfortable with, introduce yourself, and express interest in the person or persons. Try to pose meaningful, open-ended questions. “Where are you from” and “How long have you been with this company” are fine, but they tend to bring conversation to a halt. 

Instead, try to get a feel for what the person enjoys talking about. Maybe he is proud of his latest project at work or the progress his toddler is making with the alphabet. This should go without saying, but when the person speaks, listen to him. Do not let your mind wander away from the conversation, and certainly do not interrupt.

When it is your turn to speak, talk about what you enjoy. Tell stories and be vulnerable. The more you reveal about yourself, the more this relationship-turned-professional-connection has the potential to benefit you. If you have no idea what you want to do with your future and the question comes up, lay out your options and interests. Perhaps your new friend can help, or perhaps he has a connection who can help you take the next step.

Talk In-Person

One of the biggest temptations for introverts is to do the majority of their networking online. Online networking—for instance, through email or LinkedIn—is a great tool for publicizing your name and repertoire for future employers. But it should not be your primary tool. 

Before going digital, I maintained a physical portfolio of the professional relationships I had formed, including individuals’ names, occupations, contact information, how we met, and something memorable about them or our encounter. 

With this information, I could call or email someone with the following:

“Hi,Jared! We met last year at the Pro-Life luncheon in Tallahassee. You might remember that you helped me clean up after I dropped a glass of water on the floor! How have you been?"

"Last time we spoke, you mentioned that your daughter was deciding on which college to attend. Where did she end up?"

'Right now, I’m looking for a summer internship and would love the opportunity to work with your pro-life organization if there are any openings. If not, do you know anyone in the field who I could get in touch with?” 

It's far easier to find commonalities with someone you've me and spoken with than with someone who you've only emailed. Try giving people a call first, and following up with an email later.

Digital Connections

After joining LinkedIn, I began to form my digital network out of my preexisting relationships, which made remembering personal information much easier! LinkedIn also provides a huge advantage in your networking--the ability to see friends of friends. These people, called 2nd level connections, are individuals you are not connected to yet, but whom you could be connected to easily through your mutual friend.

As a result, LinkedIn allows you to find many more people than you could have found otherwise, including people that are in exactly the field you wish to enter.

A mistake introverts might make with online networking is connecting with as many people as possible…including strangers. One time, an older man with an unusual name and strange profile picture asked to connect with me on LinkedIn. No note of introduction, and the only thing we had in common was a mutual friend. I reached out to that friend and asked her how she knew the man. “I don’t,” she replied. “He wanted to connect with me, so I let him.”  

These sorts of individuals will most likely not make or break your employment opportunity. I advise you to only connect digitally with people you are familiar with in reality. We would not approach a stranger on the side of the road and request them to join our professional network, and the same prudence should be applied to the internet. 

The Secret Weapon

Often, I imagine that networking means reaching out into the big world, blindly searching for people who might be able to help me find a future career. With this image, networking seems daunting. Here is my preferred image of networking: looking to my right and left at those who are already near to me. 

Yes, it may not seem like “networking,” but establishing a professional relationship with the people you already know and love is—in my experience—the most useful form of networking.

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I was considering a career in law. Before undergoing preparation for law school, I wanted to discern this path by participating in a legal internship. I began applying for all sorts of law internships, but because I was a first year undergraduate with no experience in the field, nobody wanted to hire me.

During a casual phone conversation with my younger sister, I explained that I was frustrated because I could not find an internship. To my surprise, she replied that her AP Calculus teacher told the class earlier that day that her husband—an Assistant United States attorney—was going through internship applications. I asked my sister to put in a good word for me, assuming nothing would come of the encounter. 

The next evening, the teacher’s husband called my cell phone and said, “If you want an internship with the United States Attorney’s Office, send me your resume, cover letter, and transcript first thing tomorrow morning.” I got the internship and spent my summer writing legal documents, organizing discovery, transcribing prison calls and interviews, meeting with federal agents, and attending court proceedings. 

The experience was exciting and enriching. Through the internship, I formed relationships with individuals who then became part of my professional network, and they connected me with other professionals in varying fields. In addition, the internship taught me enough about myself to dissuade me from pursuing a career in law. But I never would have had the experience if I hadn’t turned to the people who were already around me.

So what's the secret to networking? Don’t discredit the power of your closest relationships, and be open to finding relationships at every turn. 

How to Keep Moving Forward During Spring Break

This week is referenced by perhaps the two greatest words in the college students' vocabulary. Do you know what they are?

"Spring Break"

I would have also accepted, "Open Book," "Multiple Choice," "Class Cancelled," or "I'm not going to set my alarm."

For working professionals such as myself, we refer to today as "Another Monday." But even so, there is a joy and gratitude in the air for the chance that spring break offers.

It is fitting that, this year, spring break began the same week as the season of Lent. The two seasons go hand-in-hand. Lent allows us to withdraw from the world and refocus our attention on Christ. Spring Break is an opportunity to withdraw--just for a little while--from the routine of academic life, while also being a time to recharge and refocus our attention on our personal, academic, and professional goals.

The point of the break is not to do nothing, but to pursue the fullness of your vocation and being in ways that may get left behind during the busy academic semester.

Here's some good ways to spend your break:

Read a book. The most successful people in the world typically have a reading list. Bill Gates is famous for reading 50 books a year (basically one per week), and it is a good practice to spend 30 minutes a day engaged in reading or learning about something new. Pick up a book related to your schoolwork, or better yet find a book on a professional topic that interests you. The more general knowledge you possess, the better off you will be.

Go outside. Sitting on the couch for a day is not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but take advantage of the spring weather and enjoy the outdoors. Consider having a picnic, going camping, playing sports, or doing yardwork. Fresh air can help you come back from the break feeling renewed and relaxed.

Connect with friends. Invite someone to lunch for a chance to catch up. (Re)connecting with friends is important not only to maintain your relationship, but to help it mature and grow as you spend these crucial years in formation at college. Don't be afraid to ask them deep questions, or learn what they plan to do with their life.

Watch good TV. That's right. Go ahead and finish up that show or start a new one. With so many networks and media streaming possibilities, the consumption and discussion of entertainment seems to become a bigger part of our cultural experience everyday. But the opportunities to see and discuss something meaningful, thought-provoking, or artistic seem rarer than ever. Find something worth watching, and be able to discuss it with friends. It helps you to be well-rounded and engage in the world around you. 

And of course it's relaxing....

Catch up on current events. If you have not been keeping up with the news, now is the time to read through your favorite news sources, blogs, etc. Or if you are not typically given to reading the news, now is a great time to find and subscribe to top news outlets. Share your selections with your friends, and consider spending a set amount of time each day reading about what's happening in the world around you.  

Journal. If this is not already a frequent practice for you, spring break is the chance to make it one. People who regularly synthesize their thoughts and reflections in the written form are vastly more creative, better communicators, better decision-makers, and have greater confidence. Journaling is a great way to start or end your day with focus, which is the goal of spring break. Here's a tip: buy yourself a nice bound notebook and a good pen, and you will actually look forward to journaling everyday.

Arrange informational interviews. This is the second-most valuable thing you can do in preparing for a career (apart from an internship). Reach out to people in your network (family, friends, professionals you know, colleagues of people in your network, etc.) for a quick chat about their career. Ask questions you have regarding that career, especially if this is a field you want to enter. Get their perspective on the job; don't ask questions for things you could find on the internet. Keep it personable, positive, and grateful. These people could be mentors in the near future, or could help you find that next job or internship. (But above all, don't ask "can you get me a internship this summer?" There's better ways to ask that question...)

Go shadow. Shadowing is a one-day or one-week experience to simply follow a professional around and observe what they do for their work. Take advantage of the time off to gain valuable first-hand exposure to the career you want. Ask around in your network, or find someone at a company nearby to you. Be sure to bring a pad to take notes, and talk with anyone you can while you're there (as long as you don't interrupt their work).

Listen to podcasts. There are some amazing podcasts out there which are informative, entertaining, and original. They're a great way to continue learning, and you can play them anywhere: in the car, in the gym, or on your way to class. Some of my personal favorites include Things You Missed In History Class, TED Radio Hour, and RadioLab. Find some that you appreciate and add them to your routine.

Exercise. Physical activity is obviously important for your health, but it's also important to improve your brain function, your immune system, your creativity, and your confidence. Getting some exercise over the break is a great way to prepare for the rest of the semester. 

Sleep. Catching up on sleep is important. We're only beginning to understand the value of a regular sleep schedule, and all those late evenings and all-nighters certainly don't help your brain function, metabolism, or immune system. Take time to rest, get into good sleep habits, and learn how to avoid distractions or stress that will keep you up at night.

Apply to jobs and internships. All you juniors and seniors know you have to do this, right? The time to apply for jobs and internships is waaaay before this (many deadlines close by January-February), but use the free time to organize your applications, collect necessary materials, connect with recruiters, and set up interviews.

Some places even allow you to intern for the week. Keep that on your radar. If you're trying to convince businesses to set up a summer internship with you, offer to use the week as a trial for their summer program.

Volunteer. Do something nice for someone else. Spend some time at a local nursing home, visit those in a local prison, or volunteer your time at a homeless shelter. Give back to your local community through trash clean-ups, blood drives, or tutoring at the local grade school. The time off is a blessing, so what better way to use that extra time than to serve those in need?

Catch up on school. If you've fallen behind on your reading or have an impending deadline in the week or two after the break, get a jump on those assignments now. It will allow you to finish out the last half of the semester strongly, while also freeing up your time at school to focus on your diverse interests.

Conduct research. Whether at school or on your own, spring break presents a good chance to do some research on a topic related to your major or career. If you are at school, it may be worth asking your professor if there is some project you can research for him or her. If you are away, look into working with a college or high school back home, or perhaps in doing independent research on your own time.

Plan. There are only two months left in the semester, so know how you're going to spend the time once you get back. Become familiar with some time management tools or worksheets. Purchase a planner so you can see exactly where your time goes each week, and how you can use it best. Those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail.

 

With these tips and practices, you cannot fail to have a wonderful, fruitful Spring Break. Enjoy the well-deserved time off, and be sure to come see us when you return!