- Groundwork -
taking a shortcut and using your network
by fergus mellon
Career Offices will tell you that you should use your network to help you get a job. Superficially this sounds like great advice. "Yes I should use my relationship with XYZ CEO to help me get a [job] [internship] [insert goal]."
For most people this can sound daunting! First there is the terminology. What is networking? I put the term in my file of "Unnecessary Jargon" as networking sounds way too intimidating. If you are intimidated by it, don't be. Networking is just a fancy term for meeting with other people, whether you know them (your network) or you want to get to know other people to add to your professional circle (networking).
Originally I had images of a "networker" slickly going around a drinks party and making the loudest jokes, being superficial and handing out as many business cards as possible. While that is undoubtedly a form of networking it is probably the least effective kind.
So that you feel comfortable about it, know that networking is not about being superficial. Instead think about networking as establishing professional relationships with people. For more on the act of genuine networking read: Never Eat Alone and other secrets of success one relationship at a time by Keith Ferrazzi. Keith is a very sophisticated networker and gives some great ideas about how to be genuine in building relationships. I have been in a working session with Keith and I went in thinking he would be slick and superficial (did I say I think networking can be gross?), but he was genuine and explained how important real relationships are. I probably only practice about 20% of what he recommends and have found that even this has improved my level of effectiveness. Buy the book!
Just think about networking as making contact and then building relationships with human beings who are in the same industry as you are.
Back to actually trying to leverage relationships.
At age 21 (or even 29 when I was finishing my MBA) I thought that I had no real contacts who could help me land a nice job. I was wrong. I just needed to think on what type of person could help me and then whether there was someone I know who then knew that type of person.
When I took a step back it became easy!
Wasn't there that Marketing person who worked with my Dad? Did he have contacts I could use? What about that neighbor who worked at that great CPG firm? Oh, didn't one of my friend's parents do X,Y or Z? What about that adjunct Professor who worked at that consulting business I wanted to join?
The more I thought about who could help me in my career moves, the more I felt like I had a good place to start. Even if you are the first person to go to college in your family and you don't have a lot of professional contacts through your family, still do not sweat it. You will have to work a bit harder, but ask your Career Office if there are former graduates who work in the area you want to work (there may even be a mentorship program or Alumnus who want to help people break into their industry). You may also want to ask a friend or two for help if you know they have parents who are well connected.
The only piece to keep in mind is that while you may get a referral by someone in your network, this is not a guarantee of you getting in, particularly for your first role.
I had one experience where early on I wanted to intern in a Law firm and I asked a neighbor who was in the field to help me. While he was very helpful it actually put me at a disadvantage because to get to the next stage (a summer internship) I had to work with his internal HR team.
Why was this a problem?
Because the HR team felt that I was circumventing the process by using a relationship and not going through the standard application process!
So my advice here is if it’s a big company, try to stick with the process so you are not seen to be going outside their standard HR practice. It is still worth having conversations that you can reference at your interview and support your case as why you are interested in a company and a profession. See the section on Informational Interviews for more on this. If the company you are joining is a small company without a formal program for Early Stage Professionals, then the relationship-shortcut route is going to be more successful as you are not seen to be undermining the "process" (as there is unlikely to be much of a process!).
Next Section: Dealing with a Low GPA or skip to The Interview
Related Sections: Getting Started: Networking Simplified, Networking as a Relationship or try Networking Hacks