Three Simple Steps to Expand Your Networking Skills
Growing up, I was always given advice on how to be successful. I heard phrases such as “Study Hard”, “Stay Focused”, and “Plan Ahead” on a weekly basis. It wasn’t until I got a little bit older and went to college that a new catchphrase was added to the list: “Always be networking”. Though this sounded as simple as all the other advice, I quickly realized that it was also the vaguest. I mean, what was really considered networking? I always shook hands with people I met and gave them my name. I always engaged in conversations with those who were interested in listening. Now that I was older, was talking simply considered networking?
I set out to find the answers to networking the best way I knew how, through trial and error. Of course, you can collect tips and tricks from career services and professionals who have gone before you, but nothing is going to replace what you learn through personal experience. The good news for all of you, is that I get to share my personal experience and maybe jump you forward a few steps! In this edition, I go through what I find to be the three most important things of networking and how I worked to make them my own.
1. PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE!
This rule may sound super simple but I find it is actually the most important and the one that people forget about most frequently. The first thing you have to do to be successful at networking is to put yourself out there! After all, how are you going to meet people if you are locked in your room all day?
There are many ways to get yourself out there, especially being a student at the CIA! Here are some of the best ways I learned to get out there:
- Read your emails! I know that being a student you constantly get bombarded with generic emails that are full of “useless” information about what is going on around campus. However, if you give some of these emails the time of day, you may find an event that you are interested in attending. Always keep your eyes open for events that you can attend.
- Watch where you’re walking! Just as you are bombarded with emails, the walls of CIA are usually covered with flyers and posters of upcoming events. Take a bit of time in between classes to look at the weekly happenings on campus.
- Get Involved! I found that the easiest way to get myself out there was to get involved in different clubs and activities on campus. All the different groups at CIA host events that usually feature an important person from the industry. Getting involved in a club or activity that interests you will almost immediately put you in an environment to meet people.
- Look around you! Just because you are a full time student that does not mean that you can only network at CIA! The Hudson Valley is rich with restaurants, breweries, vineyards and many other food opportunities. Take some time to research events that are happening off campus in the area around school. If you can’t find events in the Hudson Valley (which I never personally experienced), New York City is always just an hour away by train. Just saying…
- Set the wheels in motion! Now that you have done all the research and have an understanding of what is happening around you, attend ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING you can. You never know which event will change your life!
2. LEAVE A LASTING IMPRESSION!
Ok, so you have attended an event and put yourself out there by introducing yourself to the guest speaker who just happens to be the head chef of your dream restaurant. Now what? Well I am happy to let you in on a little secret: CIA has already given you all the tools and techniques that you need in this situation. Yes, I mean all of those professionalism lessons you’ve sat through and all of those pamphlets from Career Services that are sitting on your desk hold most of the answers. Now it’s time to put these to practice and make them your own. All you need is to make sure you are using them correctly.
These techniques can be broken down into two categories: Personality and Physical Evidence.
While a lot of stress is placed on your professional documents (which I will get into later), I have found that they are not as important as a first impression. Some of the first things that a professional will look for is attitude, etiquette, personality and confidence which can all be gauged within the first five minutes of a conversation. While everyone is of course different and it is important to be yourself, there are some things that are important for EVERYONE to think about while talking to a possible contact:
- Make Eye Contact- Ok, how many times have you heard this from someone and think to yourself “yeah, yeah everyone knows that”. Though everyone may know it, a lot of people do not actually do it. Many employers will check to see that you make eye contact while they are talking to you. This not only shows confidence in yourself, but also shows interest in what the other person is telling you.
- Smile/ Be Welcoming- In many cases, people can judge bits about your character before you are even close enough to shake their hand. Smiling is one of these things. In fact, many times I have been told that I was given a position because I was among the only people who smiled within the first ten seconds of an interview. Being friendly and welcoming is a very powerful thing and may be that edge over others.
- Shake Hands- Ok this I know you’ve learned at CIA. No limp fish, no killing the other person’s hand, etc. A nice friendly handshake can open the door to a life changing conversation.
- Know When to Talk and When to Listen- Believe it or not, one of the most important skills to have as a conversationalist is to know when to talk and when to stop. Though it is of course to talk yourself up a bit to industry professionals, it is also important to show them that you are ready and willing to listen to what they have to teach you. When engaged in conversation, allow the other person to share as well.
- Wait your turn!- This lesson goes back to our kindergarten days but NEVER interrupt someone who is speaking, whether it be a professional or another student talking to them. While it is necessary sometimes to be a bit forceful to get time to talk, that never excuses being rude. This is the hospitality industry after all, and being rude is never good.
By this of course I mean the professional documentation that is essential to networking. While your personality during your conversation is bound to leave a lasting impression, you want this new contact to really remember you. What better way to remind them of who you are than giving them a physical document that they can always refer back to later. After all, you have to assume that these people may meet a handful of “you’s” a week and you need a way to stand out. Here are some good examples of things to keep on you during networking opportunities:
- Updated Resumes- Make sure you are always updating your resume so you can be ready to distribute it at any time. If you’re having trouble creating a resume, Career Services is a good place to start.
- Cover Letter- When you know you will be meeting with someone from a specific restaurant or company that you want to work at, you may think about bringing a cover letter with you in addition to a resume. A cover letter can show the company that you have put time and thought into working for them specifically.
- Business Cards- Whether you keep them in your wallet or in your pocket, you should ALWAYS have a business card on you. Lucky for you, CIA will help you out with this. Students can order cards that contain the CIA symbol and basic contact information on them in order to promote networking. If you want to jazz it up more, you can always look for outside resources to make your cards.
3. STAY IN TOUCH!
So now that you have made it through the conversation and your new contact is about to be on their way, what more can you do? Here are some important ways to stay in touch:
- Get a Card- At the end of your conversation, it is ok to ask for their contact information if you haven’t already received it. They may give you their card, their email address, or possibly just tell you that they will contact you (the nice way of saying they would rather not divulge that information). Whatever the result is always remember to ask nicely!
- Email/ Thank You- If you do receive their contact information, don’t be afraid to send them a quick thank you for their time. Make sure to use specifics so that they remember who you are/ where you met such as “we spoke after the lecture you gave at the CIA this past Thursday” or something to that effect.
- Until Next Time- In the upcoming months after you have met your new contact, keep your eyes open for other events featuring them as a speaker. It never hurts to go and have a second conversation, even if it is just to remind them of who you are!
Hope this was helpful and maybe saved you guys some of the trial and error portion of what usually goes along with networking!!