Networking is very powerful and oftentimes overlooked by individuals. There are different types of networking: group networking at large events, casually striking up conversation while you’re waiting in line for coffee, having conversations at career booths, or simply reaching out for a 1-on-1. Currently, the world is going through a pandemic and many things have gone virtual, but this should not be a barrier for companies and individuals from networking. If anything, people are saving commuting time and are more attached to their computers now, which potentially means more opportunities to connect with others virtually. Disclaimer: I just want to say that everyone’s methods are different, and every person is unique – so find what works best for you and meets your needs. In this article, I have interviewed a few folks such as students/new hires/career advisors to collaboratively share insights on networking at a high-level.
1. Know your intentions going in
It is a good idea to have a clear understanding of what you want out of your coffee chat. Are you curious to learn more about the industry, the company, or the position? Your mindset going in will help guide and structure the conversation.
My colleagues come from various backgrounds and chose to join Deloitte for consulting. They knew their strengths and were trying to find an area of the company that best suited them. For example, Rachel Flint, Business Analyst for Deloitte Human Capital Consulting said, “I come from a psychology background and started to look into human capital because it has more of the human focus. I realized this to better understand my fit in the company and weaved my elevator pitch accordingly.” Rachel understood what she wanted and structured her conversations to talk about her strengths that best suited the Human Capital practice.
When I asked Rachel if she had any networking tips to offer, she said, “Believe in yourself, everything from speaking clearly to confidently – it is important for the field of consulting. When I was networking, I would practice feeling comfortable with what I was saying. When students reach out to me, those that stand out are confident but not overconfident, which shows client readiness”.
2. Prepare – but don’t over prepare!
It is a good idea to prepare before having a coffee chat. After figuring out your intentions, you should do some research and have some questions handy. “Students who stood out to me the most were the students who had done their research prior. When I used to network, I didn’t understand it before but now I do – before going into a coffee chat, it is a good idea to have at least a basic understanding of what is going on in the industry.” – Jatharson Param, Analyst/Graduate Leadership Program at Bell Canada
It is good not to over prepare because you might get too focused on memorizing facts, get too tense or start stuttering on your words. It is important to relax and let the conversations flow naturally.
3. Give the other person room to speak
This isn’t always an easy one, however, remember to allow the other person to speak! It is easy to ramble and get carried away talking about yourself. It is important to remember why you reached out in the first place, and what you want to get out of the conversation. If it is to learn more about the industry, position, or the company, allow the other person to share that wisdom.
4. Networking is a two-way street
When networking with other people, keep the other person in mind. For example, what are some potential ways you can help the other person? Now, many students/new hires might say, “How can I help someone who has a lot more experience than me?”…well start by learning more about them and their interests. For example, if the mentor I am speaking to just moved here to Toronto, I might be able to recommend some Toronto sights or places to eat.
5. Virtual Readiness (Virtual Networking Specific)
If you only have 30-minutes booked with the other individual, try to maximize the time you have with them. Amir Khan, an industry advisor at York University (Schulich School of Business) had some great insights to share about networking virtually. He said, “Attitude is important when networking, it should be fun and not feel like a chore. Currently, the Career Development Centre is trying to teach students how to be ready to network virtually such as – looking professional on camera, ensuring the audio/video is working, and having a back-up in case of technical difficulties”.
When asked how networking will be affected going forward, Amir replied, “Virtual networking might stick around longer than we think. Some students might find this new online format a little more appealing as you are in a virtual group setting where some folks can be more comfortable communicating by asking questions in a chat box. From a recruitment point of view, we may lose some interpersonal contact to some extent, however, more and more companies are getting more comfortable doing video interviews. This could be beneficial to interviewees such as students being able to comfortably go on exchange without losing the chance to network.”
6. Be kind, respectful, and mindful of the other person’s time
As a mentee, I tend to thank them for taking time out of their day at the beginning of the coffee chat. Near the end of the chat, I usually ask if they have an end time so I make sure they have enough time to get to their next meeting.
As a mentor, I always state at the beginning of the meeting if I have a hard cut-off and have to leave exactly at the agreed upon ending time. I do this so if they continue talking with a minute left, I will try my best to wrap-up the conversation so I can promptly attend my next meeting.
7. Wrap-up and next steps
As I mentioned earlier, I do a quick check-in near the end of the meeting to see if the other person has another meeting to run to. During this time, I like to wrap-up and talk about any discussed action items such as sending them a list of recommended things to do in Toronto, my most recent resume, or my past Japan trip itinerary. Additionally, having a few minutes to wrap-up at the end is good for any last important questions and/or clarification on next steps.
After having an in-person or virtual conversation, I like to thank them in an email or Linkedin message within 24 hours. In the follow-up, I like to include any action items that were mentioned. If the person I was speaking to is someone I met for the first time at an event, I usually include a blurb of what we talked about to remind them of who I was, as a gentle reminder since the person was probably speaking to multiple people.
After networking with someone, it is up to you to gauge whether or not you want the conversations to continue. You never know where your connections will lead to one day. Anika Peng, an incoming PwC Risk Assurance explains, “As long as I am going in with the mindset of meeting new people, it comes back in a very positive light. I like connecting with someone on a coffee chat and not going in with the intention of someone offering me a job. You never know, sometimes these connections can later connect you to someone who can.”
Overall, I hope these little tips and tricks help make networking a little less overwhelming, whether it is in-person or virtual. I got to chat with a few students on how the pandemic has affected their ability to network and here is what Jackie Chiu, a 3rd year BBA student at York University (Schulich School of Business) explained, “I felt more unprepared because of COVID-19 since everything was moving virtual, from events to the entire recruitment process. It made me feel hesitant and uncertain of the future, but after I started talking to people online through scheduling coffee chats, I realized it’s not that different – you can still show your emotions over the phone and get your message across. Networking is helping a lot, I get to understand positions that I am interested in, learn from the experience of industry professionals and get a grasp on the company’s culture. For example, after talking to people who work at Deloitte, I now have a greater understanding of the role beyond the written description.”
Connie Quach currently works at Deloitte Canada in the Technology Consulting field. She is a BBA graduate from the Schulich School of Business at York University with a specialization in Marketing/Organizational Behaviour. During her free time, she loves to travel and post pictures of food!