“It’s now time for the networking session.” Immediately, your body freezes up, your palms start to sweat profusely and your eyes nervously dart back and forth between recruiters and fellow attendees.
If this sounds like you during these sessions, you may have always wondered how you — an introvert — can shine in a room full of high-powered extroverts. The Sun sat down with Cornell’s Career Center and three Cornell students — Jen Maclaughlin, Assistant Dean and Director of Arts & Sciences Career Development; Leah Mozeshtam ’21; Saumya Sharma ’22; and Jeff Liu ’20 — to ask for their professional advice on how to best prepare as an introvert for the daunting arena of networking.
Our interviewees shared their tips and tricks to successful networking, ranging from starting conversations with strangers, taking on leadership roles, and planning a nice night to yourself afterwards.
The Sun: What are some of your best tips to successful networking?
Maclaughlin: My best advice is always look for an open door. Gauge people’s body language as they’re standing. If there’s a space and people are angled, that’s an open door. As a student and a professional, make sure that you are allowing other people to enter into the door and into the conversation.
Mozeshtam: Planning a nice alone night after a networking session is really important because it allows you to have something to look forward to when you feel overwhelmed. One of the best ways to get better at networking is if you go to networking sessions of companies or firms that you don’t have the most stake in.
Sharma: One, make and hold eye contact. It may feel uncomfortable, but it makes the other person feel like you are listening. Two, talk to strangers. When you sit next to a stranger in class, force yourself to talk to them. A simple ice breaker is asking if the seat is open.
The Sun: Are there any resources on campus that you can participate in to improve your personal speaking, networking, and communication skills?
Maclaughlin: There are courses Cornell offers such as Communication 2010: Oral Communication and PMA 3815: Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life that have worked really well for students in the past. Any opportunity where you’re going to give a presentation is good, such as debates and pitch contests. In addition, find safe spaces on campus where you can have the opportunity to talk and do networking, that can be office hours with a professor or practice interviews with career centers across campus.
Mozeshtam: I am a part of Phi Gamma Nu, which was extremely helpful in giving me some tips and tools and also being able to watch upperclassmen and how they did it.
Sharma: If you are already in an organization, practice networking within the organization. Reach out to alumni, older members, etc. that are in something else that you are interested in.
Liu: Any organization that takes you outside of your comfort zone and commits you to public speaking is useful. A lot of times, it comes with leadership opportunities in clubs that you’re in. You’ll be forced to get better at networking and talking to people, regardless of what club it is.
The Sun: Do you have any tips to help alleviate that “disingenuous” feeling many people get from networking?
Mozeshtam: Yes, on some level it is fake because we are presenting the best versions of ourselves to people. But, on the other hand, ideally this is a club or a company you would want to work for. You want to make sure that this is somewhere you can see yourself working.
Liu: For me, what helped was not thinking about the “getting a job or internship” part. It was helpful to lose sight of that and try to get to know the other person as a person.
The Sun: What are your go-to questions to ask a recruiter or representative when networking?
Maclaughlin: What are some skills or qualifications that you see in yourself but also within your team as a whole and how do you look for those skill sets in students? What distinguishes your firm from another firm? What’s a typical career trajectory at your firm? What did you do on campus that prepared you for your job and that leveraged you into that next level?
Mozeshtam: Can you tell me more about the culture? What do you work in? Ask about their trip; a joke about how awful Ithaca can be. Try to find some sort of common ground.
Sharma: Start by asking them how they’re doing. If they are a Cornell alumnus, talk to them about their experience. If they live in New York, ask them how they like the city and where they were originally from.
The Sun: How do you prepare to go into a networking session? How do you follow up after a networking session?
Maclaughlin: If you know specific people who are going to be there, look them up online. I would also say, know what’s happening in the news, not just for that company, but also important things that are happening with competitor companies or in the industry as a whole. I think the harder part is the follow up after the initial follow up. If you see an article that may be interesting or relevant to them, send it to that person. You can also update them on where you are in your life or career during holiday seasons to keep that conversation going.
Mozeshtam: Find out who [the recruiter] is and thank them for hosting the event. Get a business card and jot down what you’ve talked about so you can remember it later for a follow-up email.
Sharma: During the session, pay attention to what the firm prides itself on, usually they repeat it a lot. After networking sessions, send thank you emails. The emails will allow the people you spoke with to remember you from the many faces they met that night.
Liu: The biggest thing for me before going in is trying to relax. Just being in that environment is a little bit stressful. One of the pieces of advice my friends always used to tell me was, “Just be yourself.” And I always responded, “If I were being myself, I wouldn’t be there.”
The Sun: Any faux pas you should avoid when networking?
Maclaughlin: Do not ask directly for a job. You can ask them once you have a more established relationship, but it’s not okay to ask at that first initial session.
Mozeshtam: The biggest faux pas is when people dominate the conversation.
Sharma: Have normal conversations–do not drill them on some current event. Do not just awkwardly stand there without getting a word in. Do not just slip away when you are finished speaking. Tell them it was nice speaking with them and that you are going to walk around the room and speak with other people. Do not speak with one person the entire time, even if you are bonding.
Liu: Maybe you feel like you need to speak out a lot more, but that’s not true. It’s okay if they lead a lot of it. It’s okay to be not the loudest person in the room. The tough part is also not being the quietest person.