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Network Your Way In

In our high-speed, high-tech, linked-up world, students who have mastered online research and social media sometimes find themselves intimidated by good, old-fashioned networking. What’s the value of showing up at an event, slapping on a nametag and meeting face to face with strangers? Plenty. Especially if you hope to be hired by someone of a slightly more high-touch, personal-connection generation.

Employers tell us that the personal interaction matters. Cold resumes can leave them… well, cold. Anytime you can take advantage of a networking situation – an industry event, a career fair, a happy hour – use it as a way to open the door.

Here are a few tips for those new to networking or not yet comfortable with it.

Arrive early. The first people to arrive at an event will talk to each other. They don’t have many options. Show up early and people are more likely to initiate a conversation with you. Also, early arrivers tend to be enthusiastic. They may be event organizers, committee members or officers, all of whom may be in a more outgoing mood and, thus, easier to talk to. Plus, they can introduce you to others as more people arrive.

Stand in the middle of the room. It’s the most happening place. You have 360 degree access to conversations. Whatever you do, don’t hug the wall. Tempting as it may be, you only make it harder to strike up conversations.

Try some questions. This is no time to be shy. Ask questions designed to get the other person sharing. Here are a few examples, “What’s your connection to the organization?” That one is perfect with early arrivers. “Have you ever been to one of these before? What’s your impression?” Or, “You’re an account executive. That’s interesting. What exactly do you do at XYZ agency?” Some of the most valuable questions include asking for a piece of advice. “I’m thinking of joining this organization. Would you recommend it?”

Use your student charm. Something students often don’t realize is just how engaging their enthusiasm is. Few seasoned professionals can resist the temptation of being asked for advice from someone just getting started in the work world. Try this: tell someone who you are and what field you would like to work in or what kind of internship you seek, then ask, “What would you do if you were me?”

Finally, after you have met people, be sure to solidify the connection. Invite them to link on LinkedIn immediately. Rather than the canned invitation, use a short custom greeting, such as “I enjoyed meeting you at the ABC event. Let’s link.” You do have a LinkedIn account, right? Right. Of course you do. You can also send your new contacts an email or even a snail-mail, paper note. So few people send real letters anymore, you can be sure yours will be read and remembered.