Professional Networking and the Anxiety Associated - How to Actually Perfect It

When I graduated from Washington State University in 2018 (right before it all hit the fan), I was thankfully in a position where it wasn’t necessary to search for a job immediately as I could continue my senior-year internship after graduation. However, not long after graduation, I realized that living in a college town post-graduation was a remarkably different experience than when you are a student. After that realization, I decided that my time in Pullman, WA had come to an end and decided to begin my life outside of the Palouse.

However, I had come to a crossroads upon this decision: I could choose to embark on the path at which my degree and four years of school were aimed (marketing/advertising) or, I could continue into the familiar and less volatile industry of property management.

With an advertising/marketing degree in hand, I was presented with a handful of options to pursue. I could choose really anything from social media marketing jobs, entry-level marketing jobs, search engine optimization, content marketing, etc. 

Considering that I knew almost nothing of the real world and the eventual challenges that would arise, I chose the safe route and continued on the property management path for the time being - with an emphasis on digital marketing (a wise choice that led to meeting my fiancé).

male colleagues having a discussion

Network with Friends First

While in college, I took two routes that allowed me greater access to professional networking opportunities after graduation: I joined a nationally recognized fraternity (Sigma Nu - Delta Iota) and actively engaged with professors, faculty, and students within the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication

College is such an important and crucial period of your life where relationships can be curated between professionals and peers. Nothing makes networking easier than starting with people you already know. “I already know what everyone in my circle does, you could be thinking. What can they do for me?” The world does not revolve around us, as much as we would want to believe it does. Even our closest friends and family members don't always have our needs in mind. They are also unable to read our minds.

There are two core lessons I learned while at WSU: 1) You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and 2) it’s more about who you know than what you know.

Therefore, if you don't tell your friends, family, coworkers, professors, etc. of your desires and goals, they can be completely unaware that you're actively seeking employment or higher education. They might have possessed the means to assist you or connect you with someone who might be more knowledgeable than them all along.

Reactivate Loose Connections & Set Yourself Up For Success

Reigniting the Conversational Fire

A seminal work titled "The Strength of Weak Ties" was written by Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter about 50 years ago. In it, Granovetter demonstrated that those within our inner circles (those with "strong ties") are more likely to be sources of fresh knowledge and ideas than those in our outer circles (those with "weak ties").

Now, what can starting within our own social circle mean exactly? Granovetter discovered that 84% of the 282 Boston-area workers he interviewed for his study obtained their entry-level jobs through “weak ties.” The justification is fairly straightforward: People in your inner circles frequently share networks and information with you. It is more possible that a friend may view things differently and can serve as a link to networks you cannot perceive.

You might be able to enter even more networks by getting in touch with the friend-of-a-friend who works in the industry that you're interested in. Other than being curious about the other person and what they do, you don't need a specific cause to reconnect. People are typically always willing to talk about themselves, especially with someone who is attempting to learn from them.

Putting Yourself in the Best Possible Situation to Succeed

From June 2020 through March 2022, I underwent a handful of unemployment situations (thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic) and during those stints, I had collectively applied to just under 3,000 jobs nationally - remote, in-person, hybrid, contract, and temporary positions.

Hoping to help you learn from my mistakes and allow my experiences to aid you in landing a job quicker than I did, I have laid out a few key job search and networking tips for you:

1. LinkedIn - This is the absolute most necessary thing you need to have and you need to have it highly polished. Most employers will ask for your resume, cover letter, and your LinkedIn URL. 

2. Invest in LinkedIn Premium - During your job search, $40.00 a month may seem like a lot of money, but it is 110% worth the expense. LinkedIn Premium gives you the opportunity to view company insights, see connections that work at the companies you’re applying to, view salary ranges, benefits, company and CEO reviews, etc. 

3.Put Yourself Out There - Do not hesitate to DM people on Instagram, LinkedIn, or any other social media. 

4. Create a Separate & Professional Job Search Email - One thing that is necessary to note is that applying for jobs is a full-time job in itself. You are going to be submitting a lot of applications, receiving correspondence from multiple sources, and having to keep track of meetings/interviews. The last thing you want is to have those emails getting lost in your inbox amongst spam and other emails. By creating a separate email account (i.e. Gmail) you are receiving not only the email platform but also a calendar that you can use exclusively for interviews.

close up photo of smartphone social media icons

Social Media and the Power of a Google Search

Since the pandemic restricted attendance at in-person events, networking has never been simpler because of the ability to discover and contact people with a single Google search. The ability to find digital marketing jobs outside of networking events is even easier than before. 

However, not everyone has the same level of access. African American studies professor and Renée Crown University Honors Program director Danielle Taana Smith says in her article "African Americans and Network Disadvantages: Enhancing Social Capital through Participation on Social Networking Sites", “One way in which diverse groups in society are unequal is via their social networks, and the social capital acquired through these networks. Certain groups experience a ‘network disadvantage’ that limits their employment opportunities, social mobility, and social support, among other constraints.” Smith advises beginning with professional organizations and peer mentorship programs offered by universities and businesses.

woman in a black long sleeve shirt during an interview

Keep in Touch & Thank You Note/Email

The most crucial but often-overlooked aspect of networking is maintaining contact with the contacts you've made. Always remember to write a thank you note to the individual who took time out of their day to speak with you after a phone call or coffee date. It's best to share specific examples from your talk while also reiterating your personal experiences and areas of interest.

The interaction will probably feel transactional if you ghost someone after they've donated their time and only contact them if you need something from them. It's vital to check in sometimes, just like you would with any other connection. Ask the other person how they've been getting on and give them an update on any recent experiences you may have had.

Remember, the point of networking is learning how to create, embolden, and facilitate a professional relationship(s) that is meaningful and long-lasting. Putting yourself out there is not as scary as you would think. What’s the worst that could happen?