How to Network When You Have Zero Contacts

This post is part of our special summer series of content for students and new grads. Please reach out to us if you have questions you’d like to see covered in this series of content!

Networking—the thing they tell you to do but never really define how. You might think that getting the “in” at companies is about who you know and you also might be thinking, especially at this early point in your career, that you don’t really know anyone. 

We’re here to tell you that yes, it is about who you know, but don’t worry: it’s not as hard as it seems to make contacts on the insides of companies where you’re a perfect stranger to the team.

Here is how you can start backwards mapping your way into the job of your dreams through the magic of networking.

Who Do You Actually Know?

Right now you are hungry, ambitious,young and looking for anyone to jump on your application. You may be shotgunning your resume because you don’t know what else to do. We don’t recommend this approach, because…. Instead of applying randomly at any ad you see, you should start to dig into your contacts: 

First off, your university network is full of people who know people. 

Professors know professionals in their fields all over the country through old jobs, academic career fairs on campus, and conferences. This may come as a shock, but professors have lives outside of the classroom and grading assignments. Often, professors had many jobs in their field before deciding to go back to school to earn their doctorate and teach. These are deep pockets of connections—and ones you want to get into. 

Next, you’ll want to talk to your parents, your parents’ friends, and your friends’ parents. 

These groups are your network too! They know a lot of people because of their own professional pursuits.Putting yourself on their radar will be extremely helpful because they can start to vouch for you and name drop. For example, they may reach out in conversational ways like, “My daughter’s friend just finished with a degree in business management and she’s looking for some part-time work for the fall while she goes back to school for her masters degree. She’s wonderful. I’ve known her for years through my daughter. Would you know if your business is hiring?”

It’s all about using the resources you already have in order to create new ones. An introduction of this kind can make a world of difference for a business hiring because you have an advocate on the inside of the company vouching  for you before they even see your resume. 

These are the conversations that really get your career going and the paths you’ll want to take as you start to establish yourself in the professional world. 

How to Start These Conversations

It’s time to reach out to anyone and everyone and ask for introductions. The best way to do this isn’t to send a broadcast email that vaguely expresses your career interests and asks for introductions. Instead, you’ll want to send a message that does some of the work for your contacts. Here is a framework you can follow:

“I hope you don’t mind me reaching out! As I’ve gained more focus in regarding my career, I’ve realized that working for a [companies/organizations] such as [name 2-3] would be a great fit for what I’m looking to do with my skills in [name your general skillset].

[Choose one: I recall that you had some contacts with organization name/noticed on LinkedIn that you have some ties with organization name]. 

Would you be comfortable making an introduction for me? I would love to learn more about what it’s like to work on their team.

If not, I completely understand and I appreciate you taking the time to consider this either way.”

You’ll be surprised at the amount of numbers and email addresses they’ll reach out to on your behalf when you ask this way. You’ve done the thinking for them! It’s also important to remember that the people you’re reaching out to. They were once your age and know the feeling you’re experiencing right now; they want to help.

Formal Networking

As you probably already know, meet-and-greets and career fairs are also great ways to get out there and make connections. It can be difficult to weed out the events worth your time, though, so it is crucial that you actually attend the events where the attendees are the people representing the company you’re interested in. If you can, find a guest list; often campuses or organizations will publish a list of attendees before the event. If this does not happen, making a call to an event representative is a good idea to find out who will be there. Reaching out will help you to be better prepared in making conversation since you’ll know what you’re getting into—don’t be surprised; do the surprising. 

Though it may seem difficult, It’s amazing what one conversation will do for you in the mind of the employer or hiring committee. Without that human interaction, you’ll be another piece of paper to be added to the stacks. These conversations, if executed well, allow the representatives to put a character to the sheet of paper. They’ll remember your voice, tone, level of confidence, etc.— which are all important factors in hiring anyone. It is also a good idea to reach out after the event with a smooth follow up. This template gives you an idea of what a cordial, yet professional, follow up email or phone call looks like:

“Great seeing you at [event] last night, [Name]! It was interesting to hear about your work with [Company]. I have some ideas on how I could help with [thing you’d knock out of the park for this person] as a member of your team.

Do you have time this month to talk about this some more? [Your Name]”

It is important to note that these conversations shouldn’t revolve around you. You want to ask about them and their needs. You want to hear their pitches and company mission. People love to talk about themselves and the best way to get onto their radar is by letting them know how you’ll help them and their goals. Questions like, “What are your goals with your team in 5 years?” or “What is the most rewarding part of your job and working for this company?” will help orient the topic of conversation around them and their work which, in turn, will allow you to interject your interest and skills as the conversation flows naturally. 

Networking, though intimidating, is not hard to do. It’s about reaching out and having a conversation. You want to be memorable. Talking about things you have in common, like sports teams, will help them to remember you. But talking about their goals and how you will help them achieve their goals is the key to success.

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