Nine nuances of networking effectively

“Everyone except me has it all figured out”

As a Coordinator of Career Exploration at the University of Toronto’s Career Centre, this is the most common remark I hear from students. I’m not sure where this myth began, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Luckily, there is a really handy tool, called informational interviewing that you can use to start to find some of the answers to your career questions. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Be curious – If I’m meeting with someone and I practice active listening when they speak, they actually divulge more information to me. It sounds basic but it’s key – make eye contact, listen to what they are saying (instead of planning what you will say), nod and take notes. Preparation is essential so that you can spend your time active listening.

2. Be egalitarian – Your current classmates are your future colleagues. You don’t need to start by cold-calling a senior doctor to grow your career. Strengthen your current peripheral connections to expand your network.

3. Be ambidextrous – some people feel more comfortable communicating through the written word – writing a cover letter or email seem way easier than an impromptu conversation; others are the opposite. To get and succeed in most jobs, you’ll want to be strong in both of these. Practice the one that feels most challenging for you.

4. Be savvy – if you’re new to informational interviewing, there is a lot of handy online tools to use. 10 000 coffees is like a friendlier Linked In, where everyone with a profile is happy to connect to chat about their career. You can even go on group informational interviews. Quint Careers offers many sample questions and tools.

5. Be open-minded – if you haven’t already, you’ll start to see that many people you talk to didn’t plan to end up where they are. Asking about how their network contributed to where they are now or if there were moments of ‘luck’ along the way is often a key in finding out how they ended up there.

6. Be reflective – As part of my job, I help students come up with questions to ask in an informational interview. I hear some really great questions, like “Do you work in a team or alone?” My question to students is “What do you hope the answer will be?” Without knowing whether you prefer working alone or in a team, why ask the question? Take time to reflect on your values, skills and interests as you develop your questions.

7. Be (a little) risky – reaching out to a potential new contact to ask them for coffee is hard. I still find it hard and I do it as part of my job. But why do we find it so hard? The worst thing that can happen is that they might not return your email, or they might say they are busy.

8. Be safe – though this seems to contradict the previous point, bear with me. Make sure that if you’re ever meeting someone for an informational interview, you do it in a public place, like a coffee shop or a workplace (but not a home office).

9. Be yourself – If the thought of cold-calling strangers is your worst nightmare, you’re not alone. In fact, research shows that intentional networking can even make people feel physically dirty. Find a technique that feels best for you. Start by talking to your friends, family or even your family doctor!