Networking for Dummies, Or, How Not to Instantly Alienate People

Graduating in a tight economy is rough stuff. I should know. When I finished my business degree in 2007, the economic engine was chugging along. When I got back to Canada after a year abroad in late 2008, things were coming to a screeching halt. Job-hunting was more like unicorn hunting.

Network Cable

Networking. Get it?

What I didn’t know then was that networking can make all the difference. Hopefully you were doing this while you were still a student, but if you weren’t, here are some tips to make the whole awkward process go down a bit easier.

  1. Join your professional association.

Whatever you’re into, there’s a professional association just waiting to feed you industry-related Kool-Aid. Networking is what these guys do best and joining plugs you into an instant network. Attend the association events and let people know that you’re a recent graduate. Attending industry events is a great way to get yourself introduced to your professional community. Better yet, volunteer for the association—show off your skills and get people to know who you are at the same time. If you’re in Edmonton, check out the local IABC chapter or the Advertising Club of Edmonton.

  1. Reach out to the Pros

Networking doesn’t just happen at networking events. If you’re waiting until a quarterly mixer to make just the right impression or ask just the right question of just the right person, you will wait forever. Reach out to industry professionals who work for the companies you want to work for, or do the jobs you want to do. Offer to take them for coffee and pick their brains for half an hour. People rarely say no to the chance to talk about themselves. They’re even more eager to do this when you’re still a student so jump on the opportunity to sponge up some knowledge while you can! One caveat: make sure this meeting is more about them than it is about you. You’re there to learn from them. If they happen to ask about you and your situation, feel free to chat about it, but don’t labour the point that you’re looking for work.

  1. Practice Non-Networking Networking

Networking is really about helping people discover who you are and what they can do for you. If you can find creative ways to do this without formal networking, you’ll attract opportunities. Volunteer to do work in your field for an organization you’re passionate about. You’ll build work experience and gain an instant network.

  1. Be Curious, Not Desperate

Networking and job-hunting are not the same thing. Treat them the same and you’ll garner a reputation of needy desperation. Network because you are genuinely curious in people and what they do, not because you need a job. The fact that you’re looking for a job now should be secondary to building a good network that will serve you throughout your career. This might seem counter-intuitive when you’re feeling pressure to get working, but it will pay off in the long run.

  1. Be Human.

Trying to maintain the balance of being professional while still having a personality can be especially hard when you’re a student. I have an easy rule for this: be human. People like people that they can relate to. Don’t worry too much about if you have the right clothes or know all there is to know about the latest advertising trends. Be clean, presentable, and friendly.


Do you have any good networking advice? Feel free to share it in the comments. Good luck!

Photo via Flickr – Saschaa