I know. You came here to do academic work. To share your brilliant insights on pederasty in Victorian Fiction as related to Ancient Chinese Vase-Making. Or whatever. So why are we so adamant about networking and career stuff….and why are the mentors especially hounding us, when they don’t have real jobs in the first place?
These are valid questions. Valid, hurtful, confusing questions.
But they have answers.
No matter whether you are applying for PhD programs, trying to get a full-time job, or merely recognize that you would like some kind of job in the services industry that doesn’t require you to spend 100 hours on your feet per day steaming milk after graduation to pay rent, networking is an important skill to have.
Here are some important things to remember as you start going about the job-search in a more serious way that involves meeting and talking to strangers:
- Don’t think of schmoozing, networking, kissing ass–whatever you want to call it–in a negative context. Not only can it be an interesting way to find out about organizations, but moreover, it’s just something that everyone does. It’s not sketchy, underhanded, or something to be squeamish about. You don’t have to feel bad about networking. It’s how most people get the best jobs.
- One way to think about it is to say that you are merely meeting a lot of people and asking them questions that interest you. The VAST MAJORITY of good jobs are not going to be gotten on CareerBuilder.com. Especially during a bad economy, organizations can be very picky, and even often tend to promote from within their own ranks. Networking is an opportunity to get to know interesting people (and some uninteresting ones) on the inside of organizations and find out about jobs before they’re already gone.
- Dress the part. There’s no such thing as being overdressed for a networking event. A suit, for both men and women, is always the best call. Above all, make sure that you feel comfortable and are not going to be concerned about being underdressed. Even in offices where jeans and t-shirts are the norm, it is always better to look older, more polished, and more professional when first meeting potential employers. Always. Period. I’m not fighting with anyone on this front. I don’t care that it sounds petty or superficial. It is. Capital dictates these rules. I just perpetuate them. I’m fine with my role.
- Ask good questions: If possible, research the people who will be at an event before hand. Get a sense of who you want to talk to, and what organizations they work for. Are you interested in a particular part of their business or advocacy group? Are you curious about something that they do? Think of it like class. You always come to class (hopefully) with something in mind that you want to say or ask. Treat these kinds of events the same way.
- Always ask for a card: This is one of those things that, for whatever reason, always feels awkward but never is. Ask for everyone’s card. Even if you talk with them for like 30 seconds. It’s always a polite thing to do, and if people aren’t giving them out (which is a rare case), they will simply say “I don’t have one with me.”
- Always have a pen and small notebook: but in that case, always have a pen and paper to either write down your own contact information, or get an email address. At the very least, having a pen and small cards or a piece of paper will allow you to write down some things that you want to remember about the person you talk to–a website they mentioned, another organization to look up, or an interesting perspective on Dickensian Pederasty…..cough.
- Always follow up with an email: you need to. A quick follow up that includes your contact information and a specific question that will require a personalized answer is best. Keep the lines of communication open, and mention in the email when you will follow up (if you need more information from the person). Letting them know that you intend on maintaining contact is good to set expectations.
- Chill out and talk about whatever: People with jobs are normal people. Talk about things that interest you. Everyone knows this stuff is inherently awkward, and any gesture toward easy inter-human interfacing is appreciated.
Good luck! If you want to come by the office and pretend that the mentors are real life representatives from real life firms with real life big people jobs, by all means stop in.