Question: I’m a non-traditional college student. I work full time during the day, have a part time job and I’m taking college courses at night, or online, and during the weekends. I am also raising two school age kids. My school offers some networking events, but I’m usually at work or in class when they are happening. I know I’m supposed to network, but I can’t figure out a practical way to get to any networking events or to meet people in my field. At the moment, I don’t work in the field that I want to get into, so I kind of have to start from scratch. How am I supposed to networking with people? ~ Abira, Detroit, MI
Answer: Abira, first let me congratulate you on working so hard and managing so many important responsibilities at once. You’re right, networking is a vital part of an effect job search, but it is not feasible for every job seeker to attend every networking event. Here are some tips for fitting networking into your busy schedule.
Set up phone or Skype informational interviews:
- Meeting in person is not the only option when it comes to networking. Conducting informational interviews is an excellent way to gather valuable information about your field, a particular company, or an occupation. Moreover, info interviews give you a safe venue for introducing yourself to potential contacts. Fortunately, these don’t have to be done in person.
- Identify professionals in your future field and within your geographic region; a site like LinkedIn or a professional association are good places to start looking for possible contacts.
- Since your college career center offers networking opportunities, get in touch with their office and let them know that, while you would very much like to go to the events, your schedule does not allow for you to attend. Ask if they can share the contact information for the employers or alumni who will be participating in the on-campus networking events.
- The info interviews do not have to be particularly long, especially if you prepare specific questions in advance. 15 to 20 minutes could give you plenty of time to ask questions while also sharing some information about yourself, your career interests and goals.
- Try to schedule the info interviews over lunch, during breaks, in between classes, or on the weekends.
- If you are on campus in the early evenings for class, you may be able to ask your career center if there is an office you can borrow so you have a quiet space within which to conduct your info interviews.
- Be honest with your contacts about time constraints for the phone/Skype call; the fact that you are making time in your full schedule to speak with them demonstrates a genuine interest in your shared field, and in them.
- Be honest, but don’t whine. You can let your contact know your schedule is tight without sounding like you’re rushing them or like you are complaining about how busy you are. You can say something like, “Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I am sure you are very busy, and I am heading into another appointment at 1 o’clock. To make the most of our time, I have 5 questions prepared for you.”
- To save even more time, you can even send your questions to the contact in advance of the conversation so that they can be more prepared for the discussion.
- If all else fails, you can also conduct info interviews via email, though a phone or Skype conversation is generally preferable when in-person networking is not feasible.
- Here are some additional tips for doing interviews by phone or Skype.
Take advantage of social media tools:
- If you aren’t already doing so, make sure you are actively using LinkedIn.
- By actively, I mean going beyond having a completed (and strong) profile; join LinkedIn groups, participate in discussions, gather recommendations, share and comment on content, etc.
- Use other social media tools, such as Google+, Twitter, and even Facebook. Just make sure that your updates are professional in nature; keep personal updates for family and close friends.
- Once connected with professionals in your field, share their content, comment, like, re-tweet, discuss, etc.
- Many of these activities can be done from your smart phone or tablet device during breaks, in between classes, or even late at night.
- Keep an eye on your spelling, grammar and tone when commenting or sharing on social sites. Even if you are using your phone or making a quick update, you still want to present yourself professionally.
Be selective about which networking events you attend:
- If you decide to miss class or take a day off of work in order to do some face-to-face networking, you will want to make sure it’s worth it.
- Work closely with your career center to identify the networking events that will bring the most yield for your time. This may be when a particular employer of interest will be visiting campus, or when several employers in your field will be attending the same event.
- There may also be non-career center sponsored events going on in the community. You might want to check with your local chamber of commerce or other professional organizations to find out if any events may be coming soon. Some larger cities have “tweet ups” or “link-ups” that are organized via Twitter or LinkedIn.
- Ideally, you will have already made some initial connections, (through info interviewing and social media contacts), to make the actual face time even more fruitful.
While face-to-face networking is ideal, it’s not always practical. Take advantage of phone, Skype and social media interactions that can be made to fit into a busy schedule so that the few face-to-face networking opportunities that you invest in will produce the highest possible yield. Best of luck!