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Networking for Graduates: Practical tips you can use to build a solid network

In the second part of her Networking for Graduates series, Kavita Mehta shares practical wisdom on building a solid network.
BY Kavita Mehta |   11-10-2019

Networking is most efficient and rewarding when you follow a few rules and maintain protocol.

Cultivate networks

Your network is an asset that should be nurtured. You should give just as much as you take but that doesn’t mean that the pattern of engagement has to be one-for-one. For example, there may be long stretches during which you offer advice or connections, without receiving anything in exchange. And then, in the future, you may tap the same network for insights on returning to graduate school or pursuing a new career. Remember, look at the totality of your network relationships – think long term and big picture; as long as there is balance over time, it’s generally okay.

BrainGain Magazine

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Earn access to someone’s network

After almost 30 years of global higher education and work experiences, I have curated a network that is uniquely mine. I fiercely protect my relationships, avoid overstepping on requests or overburdening any one branch of the network. While I am amenable to introducing people to others in my network, I need a good reason to do so. I’ve had too many university students asking for an introduction to hiring managers or industry leaders because they want to shortcut processes instead of making the effort themselves.

For example, a third-year university student recently wanted to be connected to a senior executive whom I have known for years - she wanted to learn more about his industry, basically an informational interview request. When I asked for her resume and two to three sentences on the reason behind the meeting request, I faced resistance: It's just a casual meeting so why do they want my resume? Then, nearly six weeks later, out of the blue, she sent me a resume and her meeting request rationale. I shared it with the executive who was more than accommodating; he had context, which made it easier for him to suggest a meeting during her term break. Remember, my network is sacred – you have to earn access to it. And that means owning your journey, investing the time, and making the effort yourself.

Be prepared and be consistent

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being prepared, always. You never know when an amazing opportunity will pop up through a chance encounter – like a seatmate on a transcontinental flight who also happens to be a hiring manager at Facebook. You don’t want to be scrambling or fumbling when the person says, “Can you share your resume with me?”

Make it a point to update your resume at the end of every term of school or college. You can include your current academic performance, on-campus activities, leadership positions, work experiences, and so forth. Since so much changes so quickly in an academic setting, it’s critical that your story and related materials evolve at the same pace. And while you’re at it, make sure you maintain a current profile on LinkedIn and ensure any website or other social media presence is updated as well.

Networking for Graduates

Finally, while the tools of networking when I was starting out in my career were faxed or posted letters, phone calls and voice mails, I always made it a point to reach out and stay in touch, even if it was logistically challenging. In today’s uber-connected world, there is no excuse to not nurture a network. LinkedIn, email, and other social media have made it easier to stay in touch but harder to maintain the same level of authenticity.

Understand relationships

The word ‘relationship’ has many different dimensions. What’s important to remember is that in networking, not everyone has to be a friend. Instead, there are many connections in a network that are transactional in nature, and that’s okay. You don’t have to be friends with someone to have a mutually beneficial relationship with one another: Study with that kid in your philosophy class or volunteer for an extra project over the weekend for your stats professor or take on a tutoring gig in your university's learning center. These types of interactions will help you learn to build professional connections in low-stakes environments.

Related to this is the concept of “paying it forward.” Instead of thinking “what can this person do for me right now?”, think about how to make the pie bigger, over the continuum of time, not just at one point. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and help when I can, especially if the “cost” is low. Because, as they say, “what comes around goes around” and you never know when that person’s experiences may be of value to you.

Identify multipliers and outliers

Multipliers and outliers in my network have helped me find creative ways to find a tribe and advance my career when it was clear my direct connections and resources might not cut it.

I met my husband in business school; he was one year ahead of me. That meant our networks included our own classmates, those one year ahead and one year behind each of us; our business school networks both overlapped and were discrete. Today each of us leverages the collective network for career-related help, advice on vacation spots, and reading recommendations. My sister attended business school at the same time as us, but on the other side of the country; I became friendly with her classmates and again multiplied my network.

BrainGain Magazine

Photo by from Pexels

Nurture your network to enjoy its fruits

Sunny Bates, an expert in human network development once commented that building a network is like cultivating a botanical garden: variety is what makes the garden enchanting. In the same way, you don’t want everyone in your network to belong to one species. Instead, if you cultivate a network with people across a range of ages, stages, professions and passions, and tend to them carefully, your network will delight for years to come. So, go out and meet new people, learn to draw connections between and amongst them. And then enjoy the benefits of collective years of experience, wisdom, and knowledge while also feeding the eco-system.

In the third part of this series, I will discuss expectations you can have from a networking interaction.

Kavita Mehta is a successful entrepreneur, mentor, and business leader with 25 years' experience in building platforms and products that help change people’s lives. Her latest venture, Lore, opens quality education up to everyone who wants to learn, grow and develop their skills and confidence. Lore provides personalized education solutions, regardless of background, age or any perceived limiting factors. You can read other parts of her series here.



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