Tips and tools for making authentic career connections
Networking is a tried-and-tested method for career development success: surveys consistently suggest that 70–85% of opportunities are found via connections. Networking conversations (the more formal of which are called informational interviews) can happen with established or new contacts, over Zoom or coffee. But how to find folks? And once you’ve done that, how to reach out and what to say? These are questions I receive often as a career consultant, so I wanted to share some of my top strategies and an outreach resource to support your networking journey.
Be Genuinely Engaged
It has been said that the best networks exist before you need them. The most valuable networking activities are authentic, mutually beneficial, and between people who already know each other. As you interact with folks during professional conferences, at the gym, or even in line at your favorite coffee shop, think more about how you can support or help them rather than focusing on how the interaction can benefit you. Home in on the substance of your relationship. For example, look for how your professional interests complement each other, the ways your fitness hobbies differ, or even something as seemingly simple as a shared love of gluten-free treats. Forming genuine connections with people can go a long way toward cultivating the social capital and sense of trust that is needed to establish collaborative networking relationships.
Take Full Advantage of LinkedIn
Nearly everyone has heard about LinkedIn, and many of us have a presence on this professional social network. LinkedIn is a remarkable tool for reconnecting with people you already know and identifying prospective contacts who are working in roles at organizations that interest you. When helping clients think about where they want to start with their profile, I emphasize the importance of a great photo and a meaningful “headline.” When you request to connect, those pieces of information (along with your name) make up the three things a prospective connection first sees. A LinkedIn headshot should be well-lit, less than two years old, and focused on your face. While a professional photo can be fabulous, often a smart phone snapshot can suffice. LinkedIn has plenty of additional tips for getting a successful profile photo.
The text that appears under your name, your “headline,” is also crucial. Pick something intentional and meaningful. A few of my favorite headlines include “Marine Turned Architect” and “Student Affairs/Activator/Nice Gal” and “Future Health Care Leader Committed to Service and Equity.” Of course all the other elements of LinkedIn are important too! Take the time to fully fill out your profile to best leverage the platform.
Once you have your profile together, I strongly recommend exploring the Alumni function of LinkedIn. It’s a bit hidden, but incredibly useful once you get the hang of it.
How to search for U of M alumni:
- Within LinkedIn, search “University of Minnesota” in the top bar.
- Click through to the institutional page then look for the “Alumni” menu item. As of this writing, there were 300,000+ alumni on the platform! From there you can search alumni by title, keyword, or company.
- As you find folks to connect with, I suggest sending a personal note along with the connection request. The personal note functionality isn’t available on mobile, so you’ll need to use the desktop version of LinkedIn!
Make U of M Connections Via the Maroon and Gold Network
Now that you have your LinkedIn profile up and running, creating your Maroon and Gold Network account should be super quick and easy, as the platform can populate fields directly from LinkedIn. Maroon and Gold is a private-access networking resource exclusively for the University of Minnesota community. Users report a high degree of responsiveness to outreach that takes place on this platform, as all users are there because they truly want to connect with students, alumni, and friends of the University of Minnesota. There is even a cool new Projects section where you can post or peruse short term, skill-building opportunities.
Create an Email Signature
If you don’t already have one, creating your email signature can add professional polish to your messages and make a good first impression. You can keep it simple with just your name and contact information, or you can dress it up with a favorite quote, links to your social channels or affiliations, and more! Here are the basic steps.
- In Gmail, open Settings > See all Settings
- Scroll down to the Signatures section
- Add your details and whatever else you want to convey > Save Changes. Now this section will automatically append to the end of your outgoing emails.
Find some examples of student email signatures here. And be sure your profile photo—that’s the circle at the top right when you’re in your Gmail account—is up to date and matches the head shot in your LinkedIn account.
Reach Out—Even Strangers Love Talking About Themselves!
Once you’ve created your profile, it can be hard to know what to do next! Sometimes prospective networkers are concerned about inconveniencing others with a request to meet, or they don’t know how to appropriately act on a connection. Rest assured, with career networking conversations, you are asking folks to talk about two things they know well and enjoy talking about: their career and themselves. The opposite of feeling burdened, your contact will probably find it both easy and fun to share their thoughts and feelings about their career path! To help keep your networking momentum going, you may tailor this outreach script to fit your situation (note: the example below is geared toward students just beginning their career; these pointers are aimed at more seasoned professionals).
Subject line: Networking conversation with UMN student?
Dear First Name Last Name,
My name is _____, I'm studying _____ at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. As part of my career exploration and development process, I'm reaching out to folks who have job titles or work in a role or organization that sound interesting to me. I came across your info via _____, and was really interested in your role as ______ with ______. I am curious to learn more!
Could we meet for a 30-minute virtual career conversation / informational interview?
My goal is simply to network with you. Doing so will help me do some deeper research into _____ careers like yours. I could meet at your convenience, before, during, or after normal working hours. I am happy to set up a Zoom meeting, if that’s helpful.
Please let me know your thoughts and thanks for considering my request!
First Name Last Name
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Major Name | 202X
XXXX@umn.edu | 612-555-5555 | LinkedIn
Once you’ve scheduled your Zoom meeting, read through this guide for more tips on getting and conducting informational interviews and this one on how to gain confidence and have “Non-Awkward Informational Interviews.”
There you go! You now have the mindset, tools, and strategies for finding awesome networking contacts.
Liz Hruska provides career development support as the interim associate director with Career and Internship Services in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies