Networking Newbies Learn from the Masters: 4 Tips to Make Networking Easy

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This phrase is thrown around a lot, and while I wholeheartedly believe that you need to know what you are doing to get anywhere in life, it does hold some truth. Knowing the right people definitely has its advantages. That’s why in career services, we work hard to teach our students the importance of networking and what it can mean for their overall career.

“Networking allows us to expand beyond our immediate circle of friends and family and make connections that can help us move forward in all aspects of our lives, particularly our careers,” said Director of Career Services Elizabeth Disch. “Our classmate might not be the person who can hire us for our next job, for example, by they might know the person who can, and then introduce us.  Without networking, we miss out on opportunities that are a perfect fit.”

networking, career capstone

Student network with area professionals

Elizabeth and I both teach sections of the Career Capstone class, and this quarter we decided the best way for our students to grasp and truly understand the concept of networking professionally was to have them learn from some networking masters. We brought in some Madison area professionals, many of whom are also Chamber Ambassadors of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, and who regularly attend dozens of networking events throughout the year, making them pros in the art of networking.

So what are some of the tips our students learned about networking?

1. Prepare a well-articulated elevator speech.  An elevator speech is your 60-second introduction of yourself to someone new.  For our students this meant listing their name, program, when they plan to graduate and why they chose that program.

2. Understand small talk. Small talk might seem like an easy thing for some people, but it can actually be pretty intimidating for those who aren’t used to talking to new people every day. We talked to our students about the different type of questions they can ask virtually anyone. Below is a brief list of some of these questions.

  • What’s your name ?
  • Where do you work? What do you do there? How did you get into that line of work?
  • Are you from this area? Did you grown up around here? Why/How did you choose to move here?
  • What do you like to do when you aren’t working or networking?
  • Do you enjoy traveling? Where was your last vacation? 

These questions can spur a lot more conversation.    

3. Listen to the person you are talking to. Networking is a two-way street. You want the person you are talking to, to listen to you, so you should, in turn, listen to them. You never know what you might be able to do for them or what they might be able to do for you.   

4. Follow up. After you meet someone, follow up through an email or personalized LinkedIn message to connect with them again. Let them know it was nice to meet them and that you would like to stay connected. This is also a great time to bring up anything specific you might have talked about. If you don’t follow up, it can be almost as if the connection never happened. 

“It was totally easier than expected,” said massage therapy student Monica Bullen about the networking experience. “The people made it easy, they were all friendly and open and because of that, I was able to learn more than if they were more reserved and closed off. I suggest everyone try this at least once if not more!”

“It was a great learning experience to be able to sit down with employers for each of our career fields and get some great practice,” said massage therapy student Caroline Allen. “I feel a little more prepared to get out and network in the real world. It was great to get my feet wet in networking.”

Criminal justice student Renee Scovill said, “The experience of networking is always helpful no matter what setting it is in. You never know who that person knows or what access they may have that could help you with gaining experience for a job. Networking can be scary at times, but the more you do it, the easier it is, and it is also a great way to meet people.”