Happy 🐪 Day!! Lately, you might have noticed that Wednesday has turned into “Workwear Wednesday” here on the blog. I read quite a few blogs but I’ve noticed that most workwear posts either aren’t my style, are way out of this working girl’s budget or aren’t appropriate for DC’s conservative work dress code.
Last weekend was a complete downpour, making outfit shoots a total bust. But what I’m lacking in workwear style today, I’m making up for with tips to how to build a professional network. Including a organizational tool! Whaaatttt.
Anyone else hooked on Google docs?
Four years ago almost to the week, I graduated from American University and was kicked into the Real Adult World. And I had to find a j-o-b. It wasn’t a pretty time. My roommate and I had both been very involved in college with internships, part-time jobs and extracurriculars. Instead of running around on campus and DC each day, we both were sitting at our dining table with our laptops, poring over cover letters and searching for job listings. When I say we were going crazy, I truly mean it.
I was blindly sending my resume to job listings and refreshing my “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” tab on LinkedIn like it was well…my job. I was determined to make it on my own until I had an experience that made me realize it was time to call in the big guns and create a network to help me get to where I wanted to be.
The short story of that experience: I applied for a job that I felt more than qualified for. I went to the interview and thought I knocked it out of the park. The interviewer told me I had the best answers to her questions so far and we discussed next steps. I walked out of there on Cloud 9. I sent the interviewer a handwritten thank you note and when a week went by, I sent a follow up email. Radio silence. I was bummed about this since I felt I’d handled it like an entry-level pro. I didn’t want another job to slip through the cracks so I sat at my laptop and did what I always do when I’m feeling stressed/overwhelmed: I made a list.
I made list of every single person I could think of who worked in political communication, the field I wanted to work in. It was a pretty small list so I added a list of people working in the political world at-large. Even if you think you don’t know a single person in that field, think hard and dig deep. Chances are you have a family member, family friend in that field. Or you have a professor, college advisor with a connection or two. These are networks already in place so use them! You never know who knows who, your aunt or cousin just might know someone in the biz. Once I made a list, I began sending out emails.
In each email, I said upfront that I was looking for a job in the field and included a blurb about my past internship experiences. I politely asked to meet for coffee or just 15 minutes of their time. A vast majority of people said yes, that’s one of the many things I love about DC. I’ve found that most people in this city are more than willing to pay it forward and offer career advice, look over your resume and go to bat for you when you’re interviewing a job. And most will pay for your coffee because you’re unemployed and broke. So how did I leverage these coffees to grow and effectively multiple my professional network?
- Give them a TL;DR version of internship experiences, your skill set(s) and what jobs you’re interested in/applying to.
- Ask them their own professional journey. People love to talk about their own experiences and it’s helpful to get some pearls of wisdom from others’ experiences.
But probably my #1 tip to growing your network is a question I’d always ask when these informational interviews were winding down. A college professor told us this nugget and it’s so brilliantly simple.
- Do you know of anyone else who’d be willing to meet with me?
So simple, so obvious yet such a game changer. This person would brainstorm ideally 1-3 of their contacts and pass along their contact info to me. I’d send these new folks emails and my network grew steadily.
Okay so you’re building a professional network but how do you maintain these connections? This is where my Google doc comes in.
The hardest part for me of my job search was feeling helpless and not in the driver’s seat. So networking became a facet of the job hunt that I had some control over and this helped me when I panicked about never getting a job. I wanted to keep these connections strong without being obnoxious or a pest. Google doc to the rescue!
At my internship with Ogilvy, I cut my teeth on media relations. My supervisor would give me parameters on what media markets, publications we were looking to hit and I had to provide her with a media list. Name, publication, beat, whether they wrote online or print, when I initially reached out to them, when I last reached out, when they last responded and how I had contacted them (via email or phone call). That was the summer I got over my millennial fear of cold calling. This system kept us on the reporter’s radar without being too in-their-face. I took this theory and put it work on my networking efforts.
I created a Google doc with cells for Name, Title, Company, When I First Reached Out, Last Reached Out as well as a new cell called “Details.” During our conversations, I’d aim to remember a detail or two they’d mentioned to give our follow-ups a personal touch. This also helps to follow up with a purpose. If it was time to appear on their radar again, I would use one of these details to organically reach out. For example, if Person XYZ was really interested in XYZ policy and I read an interesting article on that topic, I’d shoot them an email with a link to the article (“Hey XYZ, Hope everything’s been great with you, I just came across this article and thought of you.”). Chances are, they’ll respond and ask for a job search update. Even if they don’t respond, you’re back on their radar. Details could also be personal, like they’re a die-hard fan of a certain team.
I’ve gone of plenty of informational interviews with recent college grads looking for a job and I’ll say that the vast majority do not follow up. But it’s the ones who follow up that stick the land and get a job.
Okay that was a LOT of text to get through so I’ll sum it up here:
- Use your existing networks (family, family friends, college) to get your name out there and that you’re interested in XYZ career field
- Send emails asking to meet for coffee or even 15 minutes of their time
- Follow up appropriately to make sure you’re still on their radar. Use this Google doc to keep track of your network.
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If you have any further questions about networking, please tweet/email/comment below. And let me know if you’d like to see more content like this!
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