PART 1: Why Network and How to Kickstart It?

Why Network & What Kind of Mentality to Have

Networking is a buzzword that is commonly thrown around in professional development workshops, and if you are foreign to the concept of networking, it might appear to be overrated and inorganic. Most students usually imagine a crowded room (or Zoom break-out rooms, in the trying times of COVID) where tens and even hundreds of students feign interest and try desperately to leave an impression on recruiters and company representatives while gaining very little tangible insight.


We hear you, and we agree with you. Although these big networking events are the most accessible, they are not the most conducive environment to cultivate organic relationships and ask candid questions. Our focus will be on personal, one-one networking, which is what we find to be the most effective. (That being said, we don’t discourage students from attending big networking events either, we will cover the topic in a separate article.)


If done right, networking can reap plenty of benefits, but it should be approached with a healthy mindset. The most basic and most commonly cited benefit of networking is that you can learn about different careers and explore which path might be a better fit for yourself by hearing first-hand from the people who went through that path. If you happen to be a good fit for the firm, you might even gain potential referrals for job and internship opportunities.

Even if you do not win the ticket for an interview, you will most likely be able to learn more about the firm that you are interested in, and being able to talk intelligently about what attracts you about a certain role of firm will also distinguish you in interviews as someone who has done their homework. Besides that, you might also get insiders’ tips on navigating the recruitment process or be directed to another firm that might be hiring even if their firm does not have any vacancies.


Finally, an underrated benefit of networking is that it improves your communication skills and interview techniques as you share about your background and motivation in these conversations. While all the reasons are valid, and the possibility of securing a referral is truly exciting, it is crucial to keep in mind that you should be approaching networking with a mindset of wanting to learn more and build an organic relationship. If you approach it with a transactional mentality, the other person can smell it from miles away, and the last thing you would want is to leave an impression that you are just here to use them in order to “game the system”.


As Betty (our speaker from the networking webinar) puts it eloquently: “I think the best thing I got from networking itself was asking people for their career paths or life stories. Especially when I would have the privilege of sitting across from someone who I thought made it in life, whether that’s becoming a Managing Director at an international investment bank or someone who had built a successful tech company. But when you ask them questions about how they got there, they’re usually able to demystify and shed light on how they got from point A (where you are) to point B (where they are). Suddenly, the other side doesn’t seem so unobtainable. Suddenly, there’s a clear bridge (or, after meeting with several people – there are multiple bridges) to that same destination. You have a clearer understanding of what path to take to where you ultimately where you want to go, and you also can know about the potential pitfalls or hardships that come with it.


This demystifying thing was the most powerful thing for me – suddenly, ‘successful people’ were not a different species from me. They were just like me, in my shoes, with my worries and fears, and yet, they made it.


Reaching out through internet platforms


Q: How do we approach someone whom we don’t know (cold networking)?


A: If you don’t come from a well-connected background, don’t freak out. We are going to teach you how to reach out to someone that you don't know and isn’t associated with your immediate circle. We recommend two channels: LinkedIn Messaging and Cold Emailing, each has its own pros and cons.

Q: How should we approach someone on Linkedin?


A: While it is very easy (and tempting) to send a connection request on Linkedin directly, it is strongly recommended to add a personalized note along with your connection request to increase the likelihood of acceptance. Professionals get connection requests from students and head-hunters daily, and if you send a request with no context, it is very easy for your request to be overseen.


Notes added to connection requests are limited to 300 characters (unless you are a LinkedIn premium member), so keep your message brief and concise. Start with a quick introduction about yourself. Next, mention how you came across his/ her profile and include any commonalities (it could be that you went to the same university, joined the same university clubs, but not too generic as love to read books, and love to exercise) to serve as an icebreaker in your connection note. Be clear about your intention to connect with them—it could be seeking professional advice or wanting to learn more about the job.


And if you are lucky and your connection request is accepted, make sure to keep the conversation alive by sending a quick thank you and a follow-up message (sometimes people do not read their connection request messages).


In this message, you are no longer restricted by the word limit. Thus, after introducing who you are and what you are currently doing, you can give more colours on your background and any common grounds you find between the two of you. Next, be upfront on your intention to connect and make a direct ask, whether it is just asking a few quick questions via text or to ask for a coffee chat. If you are interested in having a chat, start by asking for an in-person coffee chat (conditions permitting), and if the professional is busy, you can try asking for a quick 20-minute call instead.


Always be courteous and understanding. Suggest a few possible dates and times, briefly mention how long you think the coffee chat would be (20-minute) and indicate your availability to travel to the location of the professional’s convenience. If the professional has reverted his chosen time for you or suggested another time, try to work on your side to accept their response. You should prioritize their convenience—the easier it is for them to say yes to you, the more likely you will land the chat.


Q: How should we approach someone through cold emailing?


A: The approach is very similar to LinkedIn messaging, except that you might want to combine two messages into one given that you are no longer subjected to the 300-word limit. Similar to the LinkedIn approach, it is recommended that you provide some colour on your background and identify any commonalities between the two of you. You could also briefly mention your professional interests and previous internships, but be careful of your writing style so that it does not leave an impression that you are bragging about your past experiences and obliging people to respond given your background.


Here are some generic templates provided to reach out. Feel free to edit and tweak them as you see fit. As long as you have included the key points, you are good to go.

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LinkedIn Template: Message To Connect


Hi XXX,

My name is XXX, and I'm a senior at [school] studying [subject]. I saw that you also [insert thing in common (optional)]. I’m interested in the finance industry and I hope to learn more about your experience.


Looking forward to connecting.


Thank you.


Best,

XXX

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Hi XXX,


My name is XXX, and I'm a senior at [school] studying [subject]. We previously met at abc event where you shared about topic XXX. I saw that you recently transitioned into a new role in [industry a] after your stint in [industry b]. As a college student who is interested in both industries, I was wondering if I could learn more about your experience and get your advice on how to navigate the recruitment process.


Would you be willing to hop onto a quick call/get coffee when it's convenient for you? I understand that you are a busy person, so no worries if you can't make time. [Suggest a few dates if possible]


Thanks a lot in advance.


Best,

XXX

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LinkedIn Template: Message To Connect


Hi XXX,


My name is XXX, and I'm a senior at [school] studying [subject].


I came across your profile by chance on LinkedIn and saw that you [insert thing in common or interesting thing about their profile]. After my previous summer internship in [xyz], I’ve developed an interest in [abc] and I was wondering if I could hear more about your experience in the space and ask for some career advice. Would you be willing to hop onto a quick call when it's convenient for you?


I understand that you are a busy person, so I won't take too much of your time, and no worries if you don't have time to chat.


Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Best,

XXX


Q: What if we are not receiving replies from the professionals?


A: If you don’t get a reply from professionals, it’s okay to follow up after a week. Sometimes you might get unlucky, and your email gets into their junk boxes or buried under tons of other emails. Try to keep your emails/messages as short as possible (readable on phone!). If you still don’t hear back after 2-3 times, it is advised not to push it further.

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