Snagging that perfect job today requires much more than submitting an application; it's now more important than ever for young job-seekers to master the art of professional networking. We asked a few Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation board members who are also senior leaders at Coca-Cola to share insights on how to make a positive impression and manage the sometimes daunting task of networking.
In addition to the words of wisdom shared in the video above, the following fundamentals will help you get off to a strong start and, more importantly, finish strong with an enriching role well-matched to your strengths, interests and goals.
While networking demands a certain amount of strategy, don’t treat networking as a game to win by shaking the most hands, giving out the most resumes, or collecting the most business cards. Instead, think of networking as relationship building, and aim in every interaction to be your authentic, best self. Share how you have done some research on the company or opportunity at hand, express a sincere interest in learning more from the other person, and offer a brief summary of how your skills and background would add value.
Build your network by thinking broadly of connections that can support you. Beyond immediate and past colleagues and managers, neighbors, former clients, parents of friends, and friends of parents can offer unexpected connections and personal endorsements. Spend time in social networking, too, to learn who your connections might know. If they have a good connection to make, ask for an introduction via email or in person.
Do your research on the company or opportunity at hand. This can be targeted for a specific job you pursue or general awareness of trends in a certain field. Don’t put all the heavy lifting on the other person to explain every aspect of their organization. Instead of asking “What can you tell me about this position?”, ask “How will this position fit into the five-year goals to grow market share in x?” That’s the kind of interaction that indicates an understanding, allows for a more meaningful interaction, and will make a positive impression when you follow up.
Start with the end in mind. Having done research prior to a networking opportunity, let the other person drive the conversation, ideally with engaging responses to your well-researched questions. Once that comes to a natural conclusion, thank them for their time, offer a brief tagline (“This sounds like a great opportunity, and I think my skill set and increasing level of responsibilities in my previous jobs would make me a good fit for this role”), and state your intention to follow up soon.
While a first impression is important, the follow up can make an even stronger and more lasting impression and will bring you back top-of-mind. Send either a short email or a handwritten note within a week, thanking them for their time and conversation. With an email, you have the opportunity to send a concise resume tailored to a position or industry, which can be passed on in an organization if the immediate position does not work out for you.
Practice networking, particularly if the idea of networking makes you anxious or you are not a natural schmoozer. At meetings, at social gatherings, or while waiting for the elevator, practice saying hello to people, offering a firm (but not too firm) handshake, and introducing yourself. Have brief go-to personal stories you can share. Learn to respond to others’ questions with a little more personal depth (for example, if someone compliments something you are wearing, move beyond a simple “thanks” to share who gave it to you, where you bought it, etc.). Consider networking like an exercise to build a particular muscle – the more you practice, the more reps you get, the easier it becomes.
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