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Networking for Graduates: 6 smart tips to make your network effective

Networking is a subtle art of give and take as we’ve read in the previous instalment of this series. But how to we leverage our network for maximum benefits? Kavita Mehta shares tips based on personal experience.
BY Kavita Mehta |   18-10-2019

Networking for Graduates: Smart tips

In previous articles, I’ve discussed why it’s important to build a network, and shared tips that have worked for me. This part lists pointers to keep in mind for maximizing the effectiveness of your network.
 

Know your team

In part I of this series, I mentioned that a network should be like a botanical garden, with different species and varieties, to make the whole more valuable and interesting.

In much the same way, you should also know the types of relationships within your team. I recently met KC Haydon, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College in the US, who very aptly summarized the types of people in your network.

  • Support Squad: People who celebrate with you; those who lift you up when you are down
  • Compatriots: Peers who share similar goals and challenges
  • Role Models: People who inspire you; people you look up to or admire
  • Mentors: People who give you honest, constructive guidance and feedback
  • Motivators: People who remind you of your purpose
  • Power Pros: People who can help you access resources you need
  • Yin to Your Yang: People with complementary strengths, skills, or perspective to yours

By knowing the different types of relationships within the network, you have a general idea of whom you can tap for different types of questions, situations, advice and feedback.
 

Tailor the discussion

Sending a generic connection or information request message on LinkedIn won’t help you stand out in a sea of requests. Instead, do a bit of research, and tailor your request to your situation and the person you are contacting.

Networking for Graduates: Smart tips

If you are connected (or being connected) to an expert in your field, then you might request their perspective on a job offer you’ve received.

If you are looking to build a tangible skill like financial modeling, then reach to out someone five years senior to solicit their advice on high quality training resources.

Or if you are generally looking to build a network, ask each person you meet to connect you to two other people who would be open to the same. And offer to do the same for them.
 

Have an agenda

When speaking with or meeting someone within your network, make sure to be prepared with a specific ‘ask’ or request.

A student recently asked me to connect them with people in my network who are ‘hiring’ for roles in their area of specialization. I was willing to help but without some parameters to narrow the request – size of company, industry, or location – it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Networking for Graduates: Smart tips
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Depending on context, you can ask about family or personal interests when connecting with someone new. But don’t get too familiar. If you’ve met someone only once or twice in a formal setting or context, it probably isn’t appropriate to extend birthday greetings just a couple of weeks later.

Be realistic and don’t try to shortcut because you don’t want to make the effort. I really appreciate it when someone mentions the sources they’ve already tapped when soliciting advice. If I know someone has read a particular book and listened to an industry podcast, then I also know that they are serious about their query and I can have a more nuanced discussion with them.

Finally, I prefer people who get to the crux of the matter instead of over-flattering or skirting the topic enroute to a specific request. I am busy, but willing to help, provided the requestor is respectful of my time and limits. Also, don’t be overly nervous in your interactions – even seasoned professionals started out networking in much the same way. So be yourself, breathe and enjoy the experience.
 

Present yourself in the best light

Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be on time for any calls or meetings you’ve scheduled with new connections. Also, when writing an email to someone, make sure you run a spell check, use proper punctuation and are clear in the specifics of your request.

I remember being impressed with a recent request made on LinkedIn. The requestor had written a brief, thoughtful, and direct message that stood out from the generic, poorly crafted messages I normally get. I responded immediately; and after meeting the requestor, I referred him to a friend who had an open position. She ended up hiring him, equally impressed with his demeanor and sense of professionalism.
 

Respect boundaries

Repeatedly asking for help or advice, especially on the same issue, can be a turnoff. If I’ve connected you to one or two resources, that’s probably the extent of my ability to help outside of a formal, structured, long-term engagement. Badgering someone for more and more makes you look needy and dependent.
 

Networking for Graduates: Smart tips

Knowing what is reasonable to ask is also important. I recently co-signed a student loan for a mentee whom I have known for five years and who has earned my trust over time. If someone I met six months ago asked the same, I would politely decline (I would also wonder about their common sense).

Finally, if you don’t agree with the advice being offered, that’s fine but don’t be overly argumentative or difficult. Differences in opinion is normal; how you communicate that and still maintain a collegial relationship is a mark of maturity.
 

Show gratitude

When someone goes to the trouble of making an introduction, follow up. A former employee asked for introductions related to his volunteer work. When he followed through on the connections I had made, he always included a small nugget about both me and the other party in the email. I really appreciate knowing that he valued my time enough to make the effort.

If you ask someone with a professional background (lawyer, banker, consultant, doctor and so on) for advice and they offer it for free (which most will do, at least the first time), please update them with the final outcome of the decision/problem/scenario. This simple act reflects your respect for their time and expertise. It costs you nothing yet acknowledges their contribution.

Even if you don’t need anything specific, touch base with people in your network every so often. If you read something that makes you think of that person, send it to them. I regularly share newspaper articles, information about sales or events or just send across greeting cards to people in my network, to let them know I’m thinking of them.

Finally, ask if there is any help you can provide to the to whom you’ve been connected or tapped for help. Don’t underestimate the value you can bring to others. Offer to proofread an article, conduct an informational interview, or provide feedback on a sticky situation.

 

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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