One of the most important skills for you to develop and maintain throughout your career is the ability to identify and engage in a variety of networking opportunities.
For some people, the ability to mingle and converse with strangers comes naturally -- for others, it’s terrifying. Building and using your network to identify and secure employment is simply a fact of life, though. You have friends, family members and other connections who possess a vast wealth of information—from insider knowledge of particular industries to potential job opportunities.
In addition, living in New York City provides access to a number of venues where young professionals gather to network. Use the Internet to search for such opportunities. Your church is also a great resource for building and expanding your contacts -- especially when there are opportunities to volunteer at special events where you might meet professionals who work in your area of interest.
The bottom line is that when you focus, you can find opportunities in New York City. It’s just a matter of taking the time to discover them, stay selective about attendance and actually show up, even when you don’t know a single individual until you get there.
THE ELEVATOR SPEECH
Before you begin to set up networking opportunities, you’ll want to spend some time preparing your personal pitch.
Sometimes, this is called “an elevator speech.” Imagine that you get to take a trip from the Lobby to the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building with a recruiter from your dream company. Do you know what you would say?
You need an engaging, friendly and detailed elevator pitch. This should include your name and a few details about yourself, your studies, your work experience and your career goals. You should also consider a way to briefly explain the mission of The King’s College and why you chose to study here.
This speech is also the perfect answer to the dreaded “tell me a bit about yourself” interview question. It’s a quick summary of who you are and what you have to offer. But you need to remember to keep it quick. What are two or three of your strongest skills or accomplishments? How do they fit into your career and personal interests? How can you convey all that with passion?As a rule of thumb, use approximately two-thirds of your time to share your background and the remainder to express your future interests.
Your goal in preparing this canned speech is to make a lasting impression with a potential employer and to make them remember you. You only have a few seconds to get ‘top of mind’ with someone, so make those few seconds count.
Be aware of your fellow interlocutor, too. Ask them about their interests, their experience and their recommendations. Remember—this is a conversation!
FROM PREPARATION TO PRACTICE
As you’re preparing for your interview or networking event, be sure to practice your speech beforehand!
You don’t need to prepare a dramatic monologue, but you should certainly be confident and comfortable in pitching yourself. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice for your friend or roommate. Practice until you feel conversational.
Finally, be aware that your speech will rarely be a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re meeting with a potential employer, you’ll probably put a different spin on your speech than if you’re meeting with an alumnus who works in your desired field.
Be ready, willing, and able to adapt your speech and you’ll soon be networking like a pro.
A SAMPLE PITCH
“Hi, my name is Chris Ross. I’m a senior studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at The King’s College in New York City.
“I chose to study at King’s because of its unique position as a Christian college in New York City that wants to prepare principled leaders for our society. Although I aspire to a career in law, I’ve had some very interesting experiences working in the non-profit sector as a Development Assistant for King’s and as an intern at a Washington, D.C. think tank.
“I also spent a semester working in the Press Office at CBS News here in New York. I think that this combination of public relations and development experience will serve me well in my future career as an attorney, most likely focused on public interest law. “My goal is to support a rich and vibrant civil society in the United States by having a career that supports individuals and their quest for dignity.
“I’m actually interested to hear how you got involved in this field and would love to know if you have any advice to share with a young lawyer.”
THE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
Once you have done your research on various industries and have your personal pitch prepared, you’re ready to explore the job fields.
One of your primary tools in this case will be the informational interview. This is probably the best way to learn about a career path, because you’ll be learning from someone who has done it. The insights you can gain from them will be valuable as you consider whether you would like to do a similar job. It will also help to expand your network and will potentially lead to job or internship opportunities.
The type of information you might gather can include information on your interviewee’s career path, how they used their college years to gain experience, and what types of skills and qualities their industry looks for in employees. Typically, informational interviews mean that you are neither interviewing for a job nor explicitly seeking the meeting to pursue employment opportunities at the person’s organization.
You simply want to meet with an individual who has gone before you and see what sort of wisdom you can glean from them. People are more inclined to meet with you when you make clear that you have no expectations. Don’t waste the time of the person you’re interviewing, either. If you’re looking for a job in public policy or a think tank, know the lay of the land before you request a meeting with a professional in that field.
Be ready to ask in-depth questions about their particular work, not general questions about which firms are influential. Do some basic research on the person whose time you request on sites like LinkedIn or other industry sites and respect the person’s time and authority.
HOW TO GET AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
You can request an informational interview with people you already know or someone who is a colleague or contact of your professors, parents, family, friends, or King’s alumni.
To request a meeting, you may place a phone call, send an email or write a letter. You can always follow up the latter two options with a call later. Request a meeting more than a week before you would like to meet with them and always offer them the opportunity to meet in-person or over the phone.
Before your meeting, polish your resume and print out several copies to bring with you.
Also, think through the types of questions you’ll be asking. What are you seeking to learn from them?
A New York Times blogger provides an excellent starting point with this list of questions:
1. Can you tell me how you got to this position?
2. What do you like most about what you do, and what would you change if you could?
3. How do people break into this field?
4. What are the types of jobs that exist where you work and in the industry in general?
5. Where would you suggest a person investigate if the person were particularly skilled at (fill in the blank — quantitative thinking, communications, writing, advocacy, etc.)?
6. What does a typical career path look like in your industry?
7. What are some of the biggest challenges facing your company and your industry today?
8. Are there any professional or trade associations I should connect with?
9. What do you read — in print and online — to keep up with developments in your field?
10. How do you see your industry changing in the next 10 years?
11. If you were just getting involved now, where would you put yourself?
12. What’s a typical day like for you?
13. What’s unique or differentiating about your company?
14. How has writing a book (starting a blog, running a company, etc.) differed from your expectations? What have been your greatest moments and biggest challenges?
You can also consider asking your interviewee if he or she has any additional contacts that might be able to help you as you learn more about your potential career path.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Once you’ve completed the interview, always send a thank-you note or email to the person who generously gave their time. They did you a favor and if you would like them to remain a part of your network, you need to write and express your gratitude.
After you’ve written your note, take some time to think about the interview. Analyze what your contact said and think about how it might apply to your job or internship search.
In particular, you should digest the answers to the questions to see if you’ve left anything out or if the discussion stirred up any new questions. Moreover, you should try to identify the traits that they mentioned figure out if they are among your strengths or weaknesses.
INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW OR JOB INTERVIEW?
Occasionally, you might be in an informational interview that becomes a job interview. Your interviewee might be so impressed with your skills that he asks you to interview for his company. If this happens, be prepared to make a decision on the spot and do so confidently. You can either agree to an interview right away or you can say that you would like to make an appointment for a later date. Since you entered the meeting with the sole goal of obtaining information, you can sincerely state that as your main purpose for the day. Treating your professional superiors with respect earns you future opportunities if you know how to work them.