Artful Communication for Networking

Whenever we interact with others, we are practicing the art of communication. It is something that is best learned by trying and failing, practicing, and observing others who are skilled. When you are exploring careers and trying to find a job, you will be meeting people and building relationships. Improving your communication skills as you try to meet people who share your professional interests should be an ongoing lifelong goal.

Artful communication and conversation come more naturally to some people than others. Everyone can improve, however, but it takes practice. Strong communication skills begin with a genuine curiosity about others and the world. Look for simple, brief, and easy opportunities to practice with family members, friends, professors, Wellesley College staff, neighbors, or co-workers. Each time you try to get to know someone and find points of common interest, you are adding to all that you will draw upon in a further conversation. Watch and listen to those people with a great deal of experience and strong communication skills, then try to emulate them.


Observe and Practice

When you are meeting other professionals, you want to be genuine, polite, articulate, interested, and interesting. Think about people that have impressed you when you met them. What was it about them that stood out? Did they look you in the eye and really listen? Were they warm and encouraging? Were they articulate in asking and answering questions? Were they humble yet confident? Were they positive and enthusiastic about their work? Did they praise others and share credit? Did they smile and have a sense of humor?

Sometimes it is more helpful to consider what NOT to do in networking conversations. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, interrupt, fail to pay attention, not do your homework, use filler words (like, you know, um), be negative or pessimistic, criticize former colleagues or companies, or be too intrusive.

Even in your interactions with Career Education Mentors and Advisors, you can practice your communication skills. Ask for feedback on the tone of your messages. Consider whether your request is reasonable or expects too much. Work to make your meetings with mentors and advisors efficient because it shows that you respect their time and effort. Here are some ideas: organize your questions to make good use of your time, do your homework before a meeting by reading our Handshake resources and trying to write a resume or cover letter yourself, try not to ask questions that you could have easily answered on your own.


Informational Interviews and Networking Conversations

Asking Questions
One of the all time best skills to practice for building relationships is to be skilled at asking interesting questions and listening thoughtfully. When you know you are going to meet someone in your field at a reception or in an informational interview, it is helpful to prepare yourself with more questions than you could ever ask. The conversation may flow well without your needing to refer to the list, so you will have to be flexible.

Answering Questions
When you are talking about relationships that may have a career focus, you also have to be able to articulate your own story, skills, and interests. When you have asked someone to meet with you to learn more about their work, they will almost always ask you about your background and goals. It is important to have a brief, confident, and enthusiastic answer. In many cases, this is your “pitch.” You can work with your college career mentor or a career community advisor on how best to present this information.

Putting It All Together
During a conversation, your goal should be to look for points of common interest and listen to what the person is telling you about their work, field, company. It’s a good idea to point out when you agree on an idea or when you both admire the same thing. It’s also helpful to ask follow up questions in a way that shows that you are truly listening, trying to learn more, and genuinely curious. Finally, it is key to be appreciative when people have taken the time to talk to you about your interests and share professional insights. Be sure to end the conversation by letting them know that you are grateful for their time and perspective.

When taking notes following an informational interview, try to include some information that would allow you to follow up in a personal way. For example, the person you met was going to a family reunion, someone’s parent was in the hospital, or they just got a new puppy. When you are following up with them or if you happen to run into them, one brief question that shows that you remember something about them can make a terrific impression. Also be sure to note if you had an action items from the meeting, or promised to follow up at a certain point.

After the Conversation
Networking also includes written correspondence--the emails you send to reach out to people, the thank you notes you send after a networking conversation, and how you stay in touch. If you are not sure about what to say or write, it can be helpful to show a draft to someone on your personal board of advisors. After you do this a few times, you will have increased confidence in your ability to write the right thing. Another helpful idea is to save messages that you thought were written well as inspiration.  

Finally, always be on the lookout for ways that you can connect others. When someone is kind enough to refer to to a friend or acquaintance, take note of how it’s done so that you can do the same when the opportunity arises.