If you’re like me, up until Duke, the word, networking, invoked mental images of electricity circuits more than anything else. Even once I got to Duke, it just wasn’t in my nature to take the sort of career-oriented steps that networking requires. If anything, I found networking unnatural and impersonal; I wanted to gain opportunities based on my merit, not on who I knew. But now, in the midst of my career search for life after graduation, I’ve found that networking isn’t really that bad.
In fact, I’ve found the whole process, yes, stressful, but also extremely helpful and interesting. That being said, I think there are a few things I’ve figured out that have made the whole thing both more informative and natural for me.
DO use the Duke alumni LinkedIn page:
This page is by far one of the most understated networking/career tools available to us as students. I personally prefer the Duke LinkedIn page because it’s more up to date than the Alumni Directory, and it has a much wider range of alumni available than the Duke University Network LinkedIn Group. It makes it really easy to invite someone to connect with a personalized message of something like “we both went to Duke, I’d like to talk to you about X, Y, Z.” Sending cold messages can be intimidating, and you probably will get some people who never respond, but you’ll be surprised by the number of people who do.
DON’T make it immediately about you:
When messaging someone for the first time, make it clear that you’re asking them to talk because you want to learn about them. This initial conversation isn’t about pushing resumes through or connecting to other people right off the bat. You want to talk to this person because they do and/or have done something you find interesting, and you want to learn more about it. Nine times out of ten, that will lead naturally to talking about how they can help you pursue your own interests, but for the time being, keep the emphasis on talking to them to learn more.
DO ask about their day-to-day work:
It’s really easy, especially at Duke, to think about things in the abstract. When you’re talking to someone about their career, sure, it’s good to hear about the projects they’ve worked on or where they’ve travelled to, but it’s also important to be able to visualize what that actually looks like on a day-to-day basis. During the conversation, make sure to ask what a normal work day usually entails for them. The more you understand what a job really looks like on the individual level, the better off you’ll be in deciding if it’s something you want to pursue yourself.
DON’T badger people:
Even though the four days since you sent that email with no reply probably feels like a lifetime, it’s really not. It’s important to remember that when you’re reaching out to alumni or other professionals, you’re reaching out to people with full-time jobs and lives and they’re probably really busy. Additionally, their talking to you is usually out of their own leisure time, and you might just not be a priority. Be patient with people. It’s okay to follow up, but I would give people at least a week or two before sending another email.
It’s normal to feel nervous about networking–it is a pretty weird way of interacting with new people. Treating it like a normal conversation, though, can help mitigate any feelings of discomfort or uncertainty. And of course, with more specific questions, you can always come to Drop-in Advising at the Career Center for some quick advice.