A Travellerspoint blog

Growing Your Network


This summer has been an eye opening experience: not just in the work I’ve been doing and the places I’ve visited, but mostly because of the people I’ve met. From the interns around me to the mentors who helped me with simulations that crashed every 30 seconds, everyone at Ames has been approachable, friendly, and eager to help. The talks that are given weekly here are truly out of this world (haha, get it?). Whether you’re working somewhere like Ames or just taking classes on campus, you have to realize that there are a million opportunities that surround you. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.

This post will be somewhat different from my other ones. Several people have asked for me to talk about networking and how, for example, I was able to work out a trip to visiting the bros at Test Pilot School, or get in touch with someone on a podcast that I happened to listen to.

I’ll admit that I’ve had trouble with networking over the years: whether it was sending poorly worded emails, not talking with the speaker after the event, or (heaven forbid) tossing business cards away, it is incredibly important to grow your connections and keep them alive and well. Beyond that, it’s just nice and courteous to keep in touch with people that (I’ll assume) you generally like on some level or another! The biggest hindrance in my internship hunt over junior year was that I did not keep up with the contacts I made along the way. I expected things to work out on their own.

Let me tell you, a close connection of yours that can talk with a hiring manager is far superior to any stellar resume you might have sitting in a bottomless pool of online applications. If this were an ideal world, HR would pick the best people for the internships based on credentials. Unfortunately, with the sheer volume that they have to process nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to slip through the cracks and go unnoticed, even if you are extremely qualified. That’s where your connections will come in handy. They will be your “in”, your way to get your foot in the door and get noticed by your dream company.

However, if you’re just starting out and saying to yourself: “Gee, I don’t really have anyone in my network at company X”, let’s figure that out first. The best thing you can do is to find events on campus or in the area being hosted by said company. Go to those! Learn what you can, don’t be afraid to be the only one taking notes, and find someone to talk to afterwards. You don’t have to walk up to them and hand them a resume, but prepare good questions and indicate your interest in their company. At the end of the talk, if you can slide it in naturally, don’t forget to ask for their contact info! Whether it’s a card, a cell number, a LinkedIn invitation, or an email, establishing that first line of contact is crucial! You can usually ask them: “Thank you so much for your time, is there some way I can reach you in the future if I have more questions?” or “Thank you for talking with me! I’d love to hear more about your work sometime. Would I be able to get your contact info?”

Once you’ve gotten their info, it’s always good to reach out to them within a couple days and thank them for their time. You can indicate your interest in their company again and/or ask more questions as well. The whole point is that you’re building a relation with them that will (hopefully) get you remembered.

If you talk with them after an event and blow it, don’t sweat it! You can try talking to other employees or go to a different event run by them. It can be difficult to connect with someone on a personal level when you first meet them, but showing your enthusiasm for their company is a good way to let them know how interested you are.

Career fairs are dicey territory, because you’re standing in a line with 15 other people just as intent on getting a job as you are and you have to leave a lasting impression on the recruiter. The recruiters are faced with a barrage of qualified people every hour: leaving that impression is not an easy task. That’s why I recommend going to an info session for a company. You might be in a long line as well, but hopefully it’ll be easier for you to build a relation with the recruiter when you have more than 2 minutes to talk with them in a hot, noisy gym.

Maybe the career fair came and went and you’re saying to yourself: “Shoot, all they told me was to apply online!” Don’t be discouraged by this either. Look at the connections around you (professors, mentors, coaches, etc.) and start asking them questions early. Indicate your interest in company X and ask if they might know anyone there. A lot of the connections I’ve been able to make aren’t because I knew the person I wanted to talk to, but because I knew someone who knew someone else. If you build a good relationship with your first source, then they’ll be happy to put you in touch with someone else who you might want to talk to.

It’s important to ask the people around you early because that will give them more time and flexibility with their contacts. I made the mistake of waiting to reach out to the network around me until the March/April timeframe, which meant that although my contacts knew people in places I wanted to work, all the jobs were already gone! If the career fair goes south for you, this method of contacting people will still be incredibly useful: but do it early!

Lastly, if you set up a meeting or a phone call with your person of interest, always come prepared with questions. It can help get the conversation rolling and give you something to move onto if the conversation slows down. In the meeting, listen closely to what your contact is telling you and try to tie in your responses/questions to things that they bring up with you. It shows that you’re paying attention and thinking about what they’re telling you. If it’s a phone call, I always like to have a notebook open with a pen at the ready to catch all the advice that I can.

After they’ve given you their time, it’s always nice to send a “thank you” email within a couple days. If you can, tie in some advice that they might have passed along with you in the meeting. Once again, it shows that you were paying attention and were thinking about what they had to say.

I hope that this advice has been helpful for you! This summer I’ve been able to meet astrobiologists, astronauts, test pilots, and many other wonderful people thanks to these techniques. Some people might say you’re “crazy” or make fun of you for going out of your way to build a connection, but I believe that every person I build a reputation with is valuable and might open up doors later down the road. You should always seek to find paths that will open doors for you, as opposed to ones that close them. Good luck with your personal quest to find connections! I know it can be tough when it feels like a lot of people are expecting great things from you. This is my final piece of advice (and passed along by a close friend): "Get involved. Change the world. But don't worry: have some fun! Believe in yourself! You've got this!"

Posted by oklempay 10:10 Archived in USA Tagged advice networking internship hr connecting ames astronaut career_fair

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