No one taught me how to network. Here are four easy steps.

It’s September. School’s back in session. Seniors are beginning to think of their next opportunity — whether it be a winter internship or their first full-time post-grad gig in the working world. 

Students are tired of hearing their professors talk about networking. “You need to network!” But what professors and advisors don’t always share with students is the art of networking. Meeting someone for coffee won’t guarantee a job. Sending someone one email will surely not get a foot in the door for an interview. So, what’s all the fuss about?

Creating a network is invaluable for building your personal reputation and brand…and future opportunities. A network of people who genuinely know you. People who believe in you. People that will vouch for you. People who will mention your name in a room full of opportunities. 

No one taught me how to network. But as someone who has built a successful consulting business on referrals (and reputation), here are a few of my tried-and-true networking recommendations: 

1.     Don’t only network when you need something

You don’t build a roof when it starts raining. You build a roof when the sun is shining. 

Building a network takes time and patience. Therefore, start networking now, when you don’t need a job. Start by asking an established professional for coffee or a zoom meeting. Genuinely pick the professional’s brain — what has made them successful in their career? What challenges do they face right now at work? What does the future hold for their business? What top tips do they have for breaking into the field? These types of questions will solidify your thoughtfulness and curiosity. At the end of the discussion, they’ll have made a connection with you. And if you made a good impression, they will hopefully keep you in mind for future opportunities. 

2.     Create genuine connections

Just like any relationship, it’s a two way street. They’re not there *just* to help you. They are also growing their network. Learn what makes your networking connection excited — both at work and outside of work. Do they love crisis PR? Ask them about a time they really felt the pressure and how they worked through it. Are they a cat person? Ask about their four-legged friend each time you see them. Save these tidbits in your phone notes. The next time you connect, ask about that furry friend. They’ll be impressed you remember its name.

3.     Keep in touch regularly

Getting together for a 30-minute coffee, cocktail or a quick text to say “what’s new? How are you and your family?” can go far. Even better? Meet them in a location that’s convenient for them, even if it’s out of your way. Does the head of communications at a local PR firm work downtown, but you’re 30 minutes outside of the city? Meet them where they’d get a morning drink on their way into work. It shows the respect you have for their time, and your commitment to making it easier for them. Trust me — they’ll thank you. Following your coffee, don’t drop off the face of the earth. Send a thank you email, text or hand-written note shortly after and set a reminder for six-months later to connect again so you don’t forget. See an earned media clip for a client they support? Shoot them a quick email to recognize their work. Remember, networking is a “slow drip” — it doesn’t always have to be a grandiose gesture and you don’t always need to ask for something. 

4. Buy their coffee

Show up early. Buy their morning drink. It’s a small price to pay for their time and knowledge. Trust me, just do it.

About the author: Katie Regan is founder and CEO of Kirkpatrick Group. She started the company as a hobby in 2008, and in 2018 left corporate America to run Kirkpatrick Group full time. Today, nearly 15 people support a variety of clients across the East Coast. 

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By: Katie Regan