It’s all about who you know.
Coming from a family with a long history of working in PR, I have heard this phrase countless times. But it was only recently, as I applied for my first job outside of college, that I realized how absolutely essential networking is in this field.
I recently graduated college with a B.A. in Public Relations and another B.A. in Psychology. Despite being armed with two degrees, I still had to compete against dozens of people for entry level PR positions in Seattle. What has set me apart and up for success in my career so far has been my ability to network successfully.
Every single internship I have had, including this one with Weber Shandwick, came around by way of networking. Of course, my experience and skill-set were also big factors, but getting my foot in the door and speeding up the selection process was thanks to the network I built up over the years. It is one thing to apply for a position, but it is another thing to apply for a position and have someone within the company vouching for you.
In college, I was lucky enough to be involved with my school’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. PRSSA taught me not only how to network, but shed light on the importance of networking and provided me with a professional mentor to help guide my path. Haven’t had much exposure to the art of networking? No problem. Here are my top four tips for networking success:
- Start with who you know. You might not know it, but you already have a professional network. Your parents, relatives, teachers and even your neighbors all have professional connections. Don’t be afraid to ask them for introductions to people they think might be able to help you in your career. Once you start reaching out, you will be surprised with how quickly your network will grow.
- Be prepared. You can make professional connections anytime, anyplace. Don’t be that person writing your contact information on a restaurant napkin – go ahead and splurge on personalized business or networking cards. Vistaprint.com and Zazzle.com are both great sites that give you tons of options for designing your own cards. Also be sure to brush up on your elevator pitch so that you know how to promote your personal brand without sounding awkward or lacking confidence.
- Ask for an interview. Hands down, the most helpful thing I did when job hunting was doing informational interviews with professionals who were at companies I was interested in working for. I would simply send them an email introducing myself and ask if they had time in the next week or two to sit down and talk about the industry. Nine times out of ten people were more than happy to schedule time to meet, and I walked out of there with another connection and a better understanding of what the industry was like. It is important to remember to treat an informational interview as if it were a formal one. Make sure to dress appropriately, do your homework on the company and person you are interviewing with and ask thoughtful questions. For more tips on making the most of informational interviews, check out this article from The New York Times.
- Get involved. Living in Seattle, we are lucky to have tons of networking groups set up to help young professionals succeed in the PR industry. Since I was involved in PRSSA, I naturally gravitated to its parent organization, PRSA. PRSA Puget Sound and its YoPro offshoot are both great local resources for people looking to start their PR career. The Puget Sound chapter of the American Marketing Association, the Association for Women in Communications Seattle Professional Chapter and The Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Network are also great resources to get you started with networking.
Once you start working on building your network you will be surprised with how quickly it grows. But remember a good network will only flourish if it’s tended to. So go to regular networking events, reach out to connections old and new and maintain your ever-growing network so that it you’ll have the right connections when you need them.
Image courtesy of Ken Teegardin.