One buzz word you’re likely to hear a lot during your time at SIPA is “networking.” We talk about the power of networking and its importance all the time, but even the most experienced SIPA student can feel intimidated at the prospect. Networking like any other skill, improves with practice and the better you get, the more comfortable you’ll feel using it. Here are some tips to exercise your networking muscle:
- Network Before You Need It. Networking is not about “using” people, it’s about fully participating in your professional community. One of the great joys of my professional experience has been connecting people. A former intern wants to go to intern and the state department and I happen to know a SIPA grad who works there. A classmate wants to work for the Sierra Club and I attended a training session with someone who works there. Not only have I helped my colleagues find jobs or staff, but I know that there are competent people working for the causes in which I believe. By building a network before you need it, you enable yourself to help shape your professional community and people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes. (And you’ll feel better about asking).
- Value Yourself and Your Experience. You have every right to reach out to your colleagues and people you’ve done good work for. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If a friend of a classmate wanted to pick your brain for advice or you were in a position to forward your former intern’s resume, wouldn’t you be happy to help? Why shouldn’t you expect the same professional courtesy? Public policy people tend to be especially giving in this capacity because we understand what it takes to be a committed and effective advocate and we want to promote those traits. Assuming you’ve done good work in the past, there is no reason for them not to help you unless a) they are insanely busy b) they are being a jerk or c) they don’t feel you’ll use their time wisely (see below).
- Ask For Advice. People like when you ask for their advice. It makes them feel admired and important. (Hello, advice column I am in the midst of writing.) Asking career advice is a great way to get useful information and establish a relationship at little cost to the advisor. Good questions to ask include, “Who should I be talking to?” and “If I want x job eventually what kind of experience do I need?” Asking these questions is a useful exercise in and of itself. You should only ask questions to which you genuinely want the answer. That said, you may find that your questions are rewarded with an offer to help. If not, once you’ve established a relationship you can follow up with “That’s a great idea, do you know anyone there? Would you mind forwarding my resume?” etc.
- Do your homework. I will let you in on a little secret, it drives me CRAZY when people email or message me asking questions that I have already answered on my blog. Likewise, when they ask me questions that could be answered by Google. Don’t get me wrong, it is my absolute privilege to be a resource to my professional community, but as such I get a lot of requests for help or advice and I expect my time to be respected. Value the time and energy of your prospective sponsor or mentor. Don’t ask questions you could have figured out on your own. Don’t go on an informational interview without having done a little research on your interviewee or their company and…
- Follow up. Just like it takes time to give advice, it takes time to do a favor. If I offer to look over or forward your resume, don’t take a week to send it to me. If I respond to your email by offering advice, follow up thanking me. If you don’t, not only will I feel disrespected, I will doubt your professionalism and therefore be disinclined to link my name with yours. The way you treat someone after they do you a favor impacts the likelihood that they’ll do you one again.
I hope this helps get you thinking about ‘networking’. Remember, you are worth it! Be respectful and I’m sure others will be more than happy to help! Happy Hunting,