In the age of social media we get pretty used to communicating over some type of electronic medium. While this certainly makes our jobs as communicators easier and more effective we tend to forget that real relationships involve face-to-face contact, not just a friend add on Facebook or a follow on Twitter. There have been numerous studies and articles written on this trend of substituting real personal contact with online communication, and if you’ve taken any kind of mass communications class you talk about this A LOT! It’s even been looked at from a psychological standpoint. But I could go on about that for much longer than a blog post.
The bottom line is that networking doesn’t work over any type of social media, even over more professional sites like LinkedIn. If you truly want to build connections with professionals or peers in this field it takes that first handshake and face-to-face introduction. Here are four tips I’ve realized over the past year from my own networking experiences that will hopefully help you as you take your education to the next level and start exploring the working world of PR and Advertising.
1. Go to networking events…even if you don’t know anyone there.
Obviously networking events are the perfect place to get to know other people and potentially build a new relationship. There are so easy to find, and usually are broadcast across campus if it is a University-sponsored event. At Butler we are so lucky to have a strong affiliated PRSA chapter who host monthly breakfasts and an array of other events that are always open and usually discounted to members of PRSSA. It also gives you the perfect opportunity to build a great first impression with another practitioner and opportunity to exchange contact information. As terrifying as it sounds, going solo to networking events can be a huge advantage. Though going with people you’re familiar with can provide a little cushion of confidence, going by yourself allows you to spend as much time talking to whomever you like and keep the focus on you. It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes.
2. Learn how to speak up and start conversations
Don’t be shy! It’s funny because once people get to know me they can’t believe that I would ever be shy, but sometimes around strangers I don’t like to speak up. When you’re meeting someone at a networking event, casually meeting up for coffee, or especially for going into an interview it’s important to be confident and bold. Focus on the conversation and don’t get distracted or constantly check your phone. At the same time you don’t want to dominate conversation with yourself or be afraid to talk about topics other than your work. Learn how to add natural transitions into conversation and ask questions of the other person. That comes with practice.
3. Follow up on business cards
I recently read an article that said business cards are useless. While that’s a pretty bold statement, it makes sense. If you hand someone your business card but don’t receive one from them, it puts all the responsibility on them to contact you. If you’re a student networking with a practitioner, that professional has no responsibility to contact you, but you have every opportunity to get in touch with them. If someone doesn’t offer you a business card (though they probably will) give them one of yours anyway and ask them if it would be okay to contact them in some other way, like email. Obviously you can feel out the situation and whether it will be appropriate or not, but nine times out of 10 they’ll gladly pass it along.
4. Meet up with professionals in a relaxed setting
One of the best ways to build connections is to get to know professionals. Find out what led them to the position they hold, ask them what kinds of classes they took in college, and what kinds of activities or organizations they are involved in. This not only brings you closer to the professional, but will also provide insight into what will help you advance in the field. Again, this may not be appropriate in some cases, but meeting up for coffee or a casual lunch, even stopping by their office when they have a break in the day can be a great opportunity for this interaction. Some classes assign this kind of interview project, but it’s much more enjoyable and helpful when you just do it for yourself on your own time. It’s also a great way to find out more about internships that may be available and who knows – maybe you’d even be extended an offer!
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there (that sounds oddly like a pathetic tagline for a dating site). In all seriousness, professionals want to get to know you just as much as you want to get to know them. After all, you’re going to be working alongside them soon enough and you need to be prepared for the work! So no more timid Twitter follows, get out there and network.