Let's face it, there are many institutions and systems working against us as black collegians. With a lack of inclusive resources and little understanding of our experiences we face across college campuses, we must take the responsibility to use ourselves as our greatest resource. Networking can be a skill that can take your personal career interests and goals to the next level. Networking will not only allow you to gain new experiences and business opportunities but will also increase your communication skills to leverage relationships.
Here are my 5 key tips for networking with excellence.
1. Do your research
There are many different opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to shadow, intern, volunteer, or do research for companies in a variety of industries. Don't wait until after graduation begin your job research! Set aside time to research your desired career field and individuals currently working in those companies you dream of. Read through their web pages or social media to see where you will fit in the organization. Familiarize yourself with their mission and values first, then get connected! Call, email, or visit the companies to share your interests in getting involved. In my experience, putting a face to the name on the application always works in my favor and alleviates that getting to know you process.
2. Elevator speech
Talk yourself up! An elevator speech is a short, generally 30 sec, introduction of oneself to share your knowledge, skills, career interests, and goals. When approaching a professional with potential opportunities or interests you may get nervous about how to begin the conversation. Start by sharing your name, who you are, what/where you're studying, and what your plans are for the future. It is often accompanied by a nice firm handshake, eye contact, and smile. My elevator speech goes something like..
"Hi, my name is Ryan Staley. I am a current undergraduate
senior studying Organizational Leadership and Marketing on
the campus of Wright State University. I have a passion for
student development, community service and producing
innovative leadership strategies. My overall goal moving
forward is to pursue a masters degree in Higher Education..."
Be sure to have a clear, concise, and powerful delivery and go confidently with telling your story! Having some simple business cards made will also be a good look that gives you a professional edge.
3. Ask the right questions
After your research and speech is prepared, it is time to take this networking
opportunity on and ask questions that will get this new connection excited about you and sharing their experience. When I attend events on campus or conferences, I like to ask questions about their role in the organization or their experience that has lead up to this point. Don't be shy, professionals love to be asked for their expert advice and will be impressed by your willingness to learn. Here are come personal examples I use:
1) What books or sources should I be reading to learn more about the field?
2) What do you feel sets your organization a part form the competition?
3) How would you describe the culture of your work environment?
4. Stay in touch
After making connections around campus, in class, online, & at conferences be sure to follow up! Typically a day or two after the encounter I will send the person a follow up email to show gratitude further express my interests in building a professional relationship. Connect via email or linked in. Be sure to open the door for assisting then in any needs as well!
5. Young professionals groups. Find them, & join them! (Yes, you can learn a lot from us young black Millennials)
There are many young professionals groups that host socials & networking events for college students and professionals in various fields in their community. I joined an Urban League Young Professionals Group in my city and instantly gained access to a network of professionals in my field. So far it's been a great experience and looks amazing on a resume.