I was catching up with a close friend of mine while I was at home for Christmas. Like me, she has a perpetual thirst to learn more about her field of work, and a refusal to settle for simply “good enough.”
As we chatted, the thought occurred to me: I’ve spent what? Two posts now…complaining about how I can’t seem to get it together and network with people. Well maybe, I should flip the series and do more than just whine. After all, I do it with everything else! Shut up and do something about it. Turn “Networking is hard” into something constructive. Learn.
Meet Liz Trumbull. She’s a Northwestern graduate, with a degree in Civil Engineering. Yup, she’s pretty smart. And nope, she’s not an awkward engineer. She’s a boss. Her ambition has motivated her to learn and experience networking constructively, so she agreed to give me a few tips.
Q: How do you find people to reach out to?
A: Use connections you already have. Reach out to people you already know who have a network that’s related to what you’re looking for. You can also think about untapped resources you already have: Your university probably has a network or alumni database that includes personal e-mails.
Q: How do you start these conversations and what are your objectives?
A: Don’t go into it expecting a job or other connections, because people will see right through that. Be authentic. Ask about THEM. How did they get to where they’re at? People love to talk about themselves! Most people go into it expecting help but I go into it only expecting to learn something new. I didn’t realize that meeting people with this mindset was networking. Consulting companies usually treat networking as a formula or process but I think it has to be organic.
“Networking is about forming a relationship, and you can’t fit it into a cookie cutter; It doesn’t fit into a formula every time.”
Q: How do you handle the follow-ups?
A: After I meet with someone, I email them to say thanks with a quick summary of what we talked about. If I could go back in time, I’d write down notes for myself after each conversation so that I could remember the conversation better in the future.
Q: How do you find time to build and maintain these relationships?
A: As I move forward in my career, I want to stay in touch with people who have taken the time to meet with me. I want them to know how their input helped, during each stage of my career: They deserve to know, and I want them to know! Someone once told me that they set aside one afternoon each month to send follow-up emails and touch base with their contacts. This is a great idea but it might not work for everyone. I think the most important part is to devote time to following up.
Q: Do you go to networking events, too?
A: Yeah, I’ve gone to a couple of Northwestern Alumni events. They’re usually at an office, bar, or a place on campus.
Q: What do you like about the ones you’ve been to so far?
A: The events I like the most have a bit of structure to them, and I’ve gone to a few that focus on professional women. They start off as an informal happy hour but then we break off into smaller groups for activities. They’ll email us an article to read before the event to discuss in groups of 8-10 women, along with a few questions. I think it provides another layer to networking that is more authentic and it forces you to talk to new people, since the groups are randomly chosen.
“It really gets down to what it’s like to be with these powerful women…and hearing them talk about their careers is really inspiring.”
Here’s my takeaway:
What I’ve learned from Liz remedies one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my attempts to network one-on-one. Whether it’s because I got busy or just plain forgot, I haven’t been good at following up regularly with people I’ve met with. Sure, I shoot them a quick thank you, but then what? Nada. So it looks like that’s something I’ll be adding to my planner.
And you know what else? It doesn’t matter where you’re at in your career – it doesn’t matter if you have the best job or you want to try something brand new, if you’re young or old – no matter what, networking is critical. There’s also no age or experience cap to who you network with. In a way, my interview with Liz was kind of like networking. I learned a lot from her, and guess what. She and I are the same age; we’re peers. So don’t write anyone off. We all have different experiences and expertise, no matter where we are in our career or our lives.
Liz was also featured on #ImAnEngineer. Read the full story here.