Making Networking Work for You

By S. Abigail Adams, Class of 2017 Career Advisor

By S. Abigail Adams, Class of 2017 Career Advisor

Networking. If the word has begun to induce symptoms of anxiety, you are not alone. While it’s obvious networking is important, it’s not always obvious how to do it right: when and with whom should these interactions take place, and what should they look like?

The key to demystifying networking is to approach it as a tool rather than a task. Consider where you are in the internship search process: what are your current goals, what information do you need to achieve them, and who is best equipped to provide those insights? Grounding the conversations you have through the course of your search in this kind of framework will transform the vague directive to network into organic relationship-building and information gathering.

Right now, you are likely building your resume and considering your recruiting strategy. Your task is to align your interests, experiences, and goals with a directional focus on particular roles and/or industries. You will want to understand, for example, what skills are needed to succeed in a particular kind of role and whether the environment of a given function/industry is consistent with your working style and personal values. Programming during orientation and ongoing deep dives are designed to identify and provide access to the people and resources you need to answer these questions.

Booth students hard at work crossing the “to-dos” off their lists. Courtesy of Chicago Booth Image Library.

Booth students hard at work crossing the “to-dos” off their lists. Courtesy of Chicago Booth Image Library.

When companies start coming on campus and you begin pursuing outside opportunities, your focus shifts to developing a target list. And yes, you are supposed to start “networking.” The key here is to avoid the perspective that networking is a goal in itself. Try not to let the “need” to linger for questions after a presentation, to ask a memorable question in a crop circle, or to reach out to an alumni for a coffee chat distract you from the real purpose of these opportunities--which is ultimately to help you decide which particular companies and roles may be right for you. Depending on what you value most in your search, that might be how a role will offer opportunities to develop and work towards your longer term goals or whether the way a company’s employees interact will make you feel engaged and motivated. This isn’t a new process; it’s just gathering company- and role- specific information from those best equipped to provide it.

As interview season approaches, you will want to continue to develop and maintain your network. How many times should you reach out, and to how many people? Again, you can ground these follow-on conversations in the goals at hand in your search process: writing cover letters and preparing for interviews, which require identifying and communicating the qualities and skills that will make you successful in a role. Perspectives from more tenured employees and more personal conversations with existing contacts can help you do just that.

In the midst of the frenzy, try to remember: networking should help you cross the to-dos off your list, not make it longer.

S. Abigail, a second year Career Adviser, is a happy to be lending a hand to first-year students during the recruiting process.