Working Woman is a series of posts that focus on helping college women as we take our first steps into the working world. In this week’s installation, we’re talking about one of the most important things for college students to do, especially with only a couple weeks left in our internships: networking. Although I’m fairly new to networking (just got my real LinkedIn headshot this week), I am fortunate that after a semester at NASA my friend is a certified networking pro. Here is Katie’s beginners guide to networking.
My name is Katie, and I am so excited to be featured on Rosana’s blog again! Taking time off school this spring to do an internship at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. was an incredible experience that changed where I see myself in the future and taught me valuable skills about working outside of a classroom environment.
My goal today is to share some of the things I learned during my internship about building a professional network and some of the strategies I use to maintain my contacts even after an experience is over.
1. Set your goals
Before focusing on connections, it’s important to define your goals. Ask yourself where you see yourself in the future. What would you want to be doing? If you aren’t sure of the answer to that question, what opportunities and experiences might focus your vision and help you decide?
Once you have an idea of where you want to go, immerse yourself in communities related to your interests.
I’ve known since I was 11 that I was interested in astronomy. When I got to high school, I decided to become a member of our local astronomy club. I showed up to all of their meetings, volunteered for club-hosted outreach events, and gave a public presentation about stellar evolution to the club.
Because of my involvement, the leaders of the astronomy club nominated me for a national amateur astronomy youth outreach scholarship, and I ended up being funded to travel to the Astronomical League’s annual conference. At the conference, I met many incredible people, including the NASA Administrator (the director of all of NASA and senior space science advisor to the President) at the time, Major General Charlie Bolden, who ended up connecting me with my future boss at NASA Headquarters.
When I first joined the astronomy club in my hometown, I didn’t know it would lead to so many opportunities down the road. Instead, I followed my interests and the people I met along the way helped lead me right to where I wanted to be.
2. Be prepared
So you know your goals and are involved in groups that interest you, but when opportunities come about (and they often come randomly), you need to be ready. It is important to always keep your resume updated after you get a new position, earn a new honor, or gain a new skill.
Unless you are at career fair specifically, you don’t need to have it with you, but it helps last-minute stress when you need to send it out to someone fast. One good way to keep track of what you do as well as to have an up-to-date LinkedIn. This should mirror your resume while offering more description about what you did for each experience listed.
One thing I learned fast while in D.C. was the necessity of having business cards. Most people have them, and if you have a good conversation with someone at an event it shows maturity and professionalism to hand them a card at the end.
It also prevents you from offering an awkward explanation of why you don’t have any cards yet if someone hands you theirs (speaking from experience here). I recommend skipping the expensive official college ones and opting for something cheaper, more unique, and customizable.
3. Attend Professional Events and Classes
A great place to start meeting people is through networking-specific events. Many organizations host receptions, conferences, or talks that are prime opportunities for building those professional contacts. Subscribe to the email lists of any organizations that interest you and try going to any open events they host.
On-campus resources also offer great advantages for students. Keep a lookout for emails sent out about career fairs or alumni networking days and try to attend as many as possible. My college even offered a special seminar series for those interested in learning more about networking. Through watching a video, doing a reading, and completing a personal mission each week, we learned through experience how to build lasting professional relationships.
4. In the Office
Although your goals may be different from where you are right now, it is essential to always bring your best to wherever you currently work or study. Through hard work, enthusiasm, and pushing your own limits, you are much more likely to stand out to your coworkers and supervisors, both in your own office and within the larger organization.
Your colleagues will also take notice when you express your interests and may go out of their way to help you pursue projects in those areas or attend relevant receptions and meetings with individuals from other organizations in that field. Never be afraid to ask about opportunities to take advantage of outside of work.
At NASA, my supervisors knew what research I was interested in and had me working on projects in that area, helping me connect with astrophysicists I admire. They also brought me to many receptions for NASA’s partner organizations where I met many more people I will continue to keep in touch with far into the future.
5. Maintain Contact
I want to emphasize the importance of staying in contact with the people you meet. Immediately after getting home from a networking event or reception, be sure to make note of the name, contact information, job title, and context in which you met anyone you talked to.
It’s pretty nerdy, but I honestly keep a spreadsheet with all of this information that I update regularly. The next day, make sure to send individual emails to each person saying you enjoyed your conversation with her and that you hope to stay in touch.
It also helps to note a unique or interesting aspect of your conversation that you remember; this shows that you truly care. Especially if they write back, be sure to follow up to maintain the connection. Every few months or couple times a year, send them an email with updates on your progress or any new aspects of your professional life. They will appreciate knowing what you are up to.
Lastly, use the contacts you make wisely. It helps if you have something to offer that or are willing to work on a project with them if necessary. If you’ve stayed in contact and kept them updated and if they could help you achieve a goal you have through their connections with other people or organization, then don’t be afraid to reach out.
I hope that this has been a good introduction to the art of networking!
I am so grateful to Katie for sharing her networking know-how as a part of the Working Woman series. Katie has also written about how she meal planned without a kitchen during her summer in DC, and is the star of my marathon post.
Have you used any of these strategies before or think you might try to start?