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  • Destenie Nock

Networking Hacks in 5 minutes or Less

Networking is something we have to do in every aspect of our career. Read these tips for making your networking experience smoother. Each one can be implemented in 5 minutes or less.

By Destenie Nock


Whether you are at a conference or just walking down the hall you will inevitably run into people. Each time you run into someone this is a grand opportunity to network. Sometimes we are networking to expand our social circle, while other times we have the aim of advancing our career through finding potential mentors or learning about job opportunities. Regardless of which situation you are in the goal of networking is simple: to exchange information and potentially discuss future opportunities. The top four hacks I use for networking are:

  1. Have a list of questions ready to ask in case the conversation stalls.

  2. Set up meetings with 2-3 people before you go to the conference.

  3. Have your business cards ready, and hand them out like candy.

  4. Make sure you have an e-mail signature with relevant information for your job field.

For more details about each of these please read on.

Hack #1: Have a list of questions ready that you can ask if the conversation stalls. Sometimes I keep these questions in the back of the notebook I take with me to conferences. Examples include:

  1. How did you end up in your profession? Organization?

  2. What do you enjoy about working with your company?

  3. What is the most interesting project you have worked on this far?

  4. I saw you did work in _______, can you tell me a little more about that?

  5. What advice would you give to a newcomer in the field?

Even if you have a set of questions ready it may be intimidating to go up and talk to random people in the middle of a conference. This is why Hack #2 is set up meetings with 1-3 people before you get to the conference. At the beginning of my graduate school career I would e-mail people whose work I thought was interesting and try to set up a coffee meeting. In my e-mail I expressed interest in their work and I informed them that I was interested in learning more about their research and/or their career path. Showing that I was genuinely interested lead to a high response rate. I would also sign up for "Meet a Member" or mentoring sessions the conference would offer. If I hit it off with someone I would try to keep in contact or see them again at another conference. This helped me a lot down the line when I had to decide which career path I was going to pursue. Not only did I have a lot of mentors, but I also had a better idea about various career opportunities.

To ease in follow up conversations ideally you should make your contact information really easy to find. The two simplest ways to do this would be to follow Hacks #3 and 4: (3) have business cards on deck (4) put an email signature at the end of every e-mail. Business cards are one of the most valuable networking tools. When you are talking with someone and they want to follow up a business card is invaluable. Also if you hand someone a business card 9 times out of 10, if they have one, they will hand one back to you. It is generally considered common courtesy. When I am at a conference and overwhelmed with the amount of business cards I have received I will write a few notes on the back of the card about what I wanted to follow up with them about. You have so many things going on in your life that the last thing you want to have to do when you sit down to follow up with people is rack your brain trying to remember what to follow up about. If you are strapped for cash you can find very low cost ones on VistaPrint where you can often find 100 business cards for less than $20.

Your e-mail is also a great networking tool. When setting up your e-mail don't overlook the e-mail signature. At the very least this should include your name, current job title, e-mail address, and maybe academic credentials. Please find a very conveniently placed example of the e-mail signature below.

So in summary to make networking easier on yourself get business cards, make sure there is a signature at the end of your e-mail, and have a set of questions ready to ask people in case the conversation stalls.

Hopefully this post helped you feel a little bit more ready for the conference or job fair you will be going to soon. Good luck!

Note about the author: Destenie Nock holds a PhD in Industrial Engineering an Operations Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a Post-Doc in the Carnegie Mellon Engineering & Public Policy (EPP) Department for 2019, and in 2020 this will transfer to an Assistant Professor position in EPP and Civil and Environmental Engineering. She earned a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen's University of Belfast, and two BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Applied Math at North Carolina A&T State University. In her free time she likes to hit the gym, try a new dance class and cook with friends.

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