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By Alex Weiss
(firstname.lastname@example.org) (With inspiration from Sameer Rathod)
Networking is a topic that is often referred to, but rarely practiced correctly. There is an appropriate way to go about networking and an inappropriate way. By following the right approach, you, as a student at Carnegie Mellon, can quickly create a network of people that want to help you out and give you advice. By following the wrong method, you will end up annoying the people that you so desperately want to make contact with, hindering your future networking goals. Becoming a great networker is directly related to changing your state of mind1. What separates a good networker from a great networker is the ability to look at contacts as an interrelated web of people who are all connected in some distinct way. By properly speaking with one contact and then utilizing him/her as a resource to find other contacts, you will make many of the steps below much easier to complete. I have created a system that you can use as a tool to begin networking with people. The best thing about the system is that you do not need a prestigious family with lots of connections, attendance at an Ivy League school, or a ton of money to successfully implement it; all you need is tact, persistence, and courage. The method below explains the proper way to make the first contact, maintain that relationship and then leverage the formed relationship to achieve your goals. The system I have designed will also give you some caveats to avoid while progressing through the steps. Often times, you will meet a contact in a bar or restaurant and have to skip entire steps in the process. Because of this, this system should not be used as a static networking procedure; rather you should use it as a dynamic tool that you can build upon by adding in your own effective networking behaviors.
In order to network effectively, it is important to focus on five key areas. You can use the acronym RCEUR as a guide for your actions. RCEUR stands for Research, Contact, Empathize, Utilize, Return. I encourage you to apply this methodology when networking to help you best use your own natural abilities to create a successful network. Research is the first of the five steps2. It is the easiest step to perform because most of it can be done without interacting with anyone. It is very important to find out as much background information as possible on each person you contact to develop a more personal relationship with them. This means first going to as many career related
databases as you can find and looking up the specific individual. Then, you should use google to search for the person to find out information about their college, position, and other activities that they may participate in. Lastly, you should speak with the contacts you have already created to see if they have information on the person you are reaching out to. Often times, contacts in similar industries know each other and can give you useful information about their friends. After you find this personal information, you should organize it into a database so that you can quickly retrieve it when necessary. Using a computer database of contacts such as Outlook or Excel is an easy way to maintain this information. Once personal information is found, choosing when to use this personal information is a major issue. Sometimes you may want to withhold information so that you do not scare the person you are speaking with; however, other times you may want to weave in the information you have learned so that you can form a better connection with the contact. After this information is found, you should learn as much information about
Prescott, R. (Producer). (1994). Business networking made easy. (VHS Videocassette Recording). Bloomfield, CT: The Prescott Group.
the person’s profession as possible. This will make you appear much more intelligent when you converse with them and it will make it easier to come up with intelligent questions to ask. By having a constant source of questions, you will always have an excuse to speak to the contact, which will help you build rapport and establish credibility. You can take this even further and enhance your relationship by offering to meet up with the contact whenever you make a trip to their geographic location. This face to face meeting is what really causes strong bonds to develop and will often make the contact much more likely to help you when necessary because they will trust you as a person and believe that you truly care about the industry. Contact is the second step in the process3. It is the easiest action to perform, but the hardest to master. It involves sending out an email, writing a letter, or picking up the phone and making a call. Without contact, there can be no relationship. Coming out of school, very few people are actively going to seek you out because of your relatively low position on the corporate food chain. Therefore, it is extremely important that you spend a good amount of time contacting people and building your network. People often times want to contact people to start networking, but they do not want to spend large amounts of time or energy to go through the required steps. They cut corners and fail to check over the emails they send out. They do not do their background research. They do not have a plan of what they want to accomplish before the initial conversation even starts. Everything that is sent to a contact should be checked over with the steadfastness of something you would hand to your boss. The quote “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” undoubtedly holds true when it comes to networking. Because
Hunsaker, P. L., & Robbins, S. P. (1989/2003). Training in Interpersonal Skills: Tips for Managing People at Work (third edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
of this, it is extremely important that you spend a considerable amount of time on the contact step of the networking process and learn the proper way to write an email, cover letter and resume. The third thing you should do when networking is empathize. This is very important because in most cases when junior people try and contact senior people, you have nothing tangible to offer in return so you have to think of other incentives you can provide to the contacts that will entice them to network with you. The most effective way to gain empathy is to find someone who knows the specific contact that you are trying to speak with and ask that person to give you a referral. This goes a long way towards building up your credibility and giving your contact a reason to speak with you. If you are not lucky enough to know a friend of the contact, you should try and find something during the research phase that will make the contact want to speak with you. This factor is one of the most important parts of the networking process because it will help distinguish you from the 100 other people who have also contacted this person over the course of a year. A few common ways to arouse empathy are by sharing stories about a common geographical location where you have lived or visited, discussing your almamater if you came from the same college or talking about a sporting event or performance that you both watched or attended. If all of those steps fail, then it is important to be as friendly and interested as you can in your first contact with the person so that you come off as someone they would be excited to speak with. This will make all the difference because the people you are contacting can choose to either speak with you or leave the office and go home to their families. You are the person who has to convince them to stay away from their 3-year old daughter for an extra 30 minutes. If speaking with them
is not the high point of your day, they will sense that and next time you try and contact them they will spend those 30 minutes with their families instead. Most contacts you speak with were in the same position that you were in just a little while back and are more than willing to help if you can appeal to their desire to give back. You will often hear this referenced as the “mentor – mentee” relationship. Utilize is the fourth step in the process. This is the step where you switch from the contact making portion to the part where you actually employ the help of the contacts that you have made. It is tricky to switch from interacting with a contact on a purely informational basis, to one that requires them to endorse you to their employer or to connect you with a person who can help. The best way to ease this transition is to contact each person long before you need their help. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. It takes many exchanges to develop a strong and trusting relationship with someone and if you try to rush the process, people will think that you are merely using them. In today’s world, it is recommendations from your contacts that will get you a phone call, get you an interview and get you a job. Once you begin to utilize a contact it is very important that you set what goals you want to achieve right away and then plan the best way to realize these goals while never offending the contact in any way. If attaining one of your predefined goals is not in line with the contacts beliefs and pressing for it will jeopardize your relationship with the contact, then eliminate the goal! This may sound silly, but often times a good
relationship with a contact in a powerful position may be worth more to you than a slightly better position at a company or a little bit more money. Every contact you have is connected to every other contact through someone, so maintaining trust and respect is
of paramount importance. Often times multiple contacts you have spoken with will talk to each other to make a combined assessment of your abilities. For this reason, don’t misinterpret the word “utilize” to mean use, abuse, or take advantage of. By “utilize”, I merely mean take the time to ask questions, learn about their profession and then, if things go well, ask them to help. But, make sure you never treat the contact like a recruiter. This is a common misconception of people who start to network. Most of the contacts you network with are regular employees or students like you and I. They want to help out, but are very busy and vehemently opposed to being used. One alumni contact who I am friends with received a cover letter from a student before she had ever spoken to that person. Her words to me were: “I am not a recruiter so make sure that people don’t treat me like one. I am here to give advice.” Follow this because anytime a contact gives you a reference they are putting their neck on the line for you. If you mess up really badly, they can get fired. If you interview really badly, they look stupid and often times will have a very hard time helping other students get jobs. Remember this during the utilization stage of the networking process. The last step in the networking process is to return. This step has very little immediate impact on your job/career goals, but it is the step that has a lasting effect on the relationships that you make. What the term “return” refers to is that once you have spoken to a contact, you want to return to them anything you can that will give them value. I don’t mean for you to go out and buy them a gold watch or a fancy dinner; rather, I mean that you should do little things that will make the contact feel good about helping you. A couple ways to “return” to the contact are to pass on information that can be helpful to them, continually praise them for their help while telling others how helpful
they were, send thank you notes that show your appreciation, excel in the job or interview that they recommended you for and lastly make sure to help out other people who don’t know as much as you do so that your contact sees their advice being passed on and returned to future generations of networkers. My first boss – Jim Lemonick – told me that “Random acts of kindness never go unrewarded.” Take this to heart and always return more than you are given. If you follow these 5 steps, you will be able to build a very strong network of contacts who can support you as you traverse the corporate ladder. This will take large amounts of time and hard work, but it will definitely pay huge dividends for you in the future. You may be the smartest, hardest-working person on the planet, but if you do not utilize networking to its fullest, you will never achieve all that you are capable of. Isaac Newton once said; “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I advise you to follow these steps, stand on the shoulders of giants and achieve all that you were meant to accomplish. All you have to do is RCEUR.
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