Question: Ok, I see why I need to network now, but where do I go find people to connect with and who should I target?
Answer: There are many channels that you can leverage to build up your professional network. This is a list of channels that I myself have used throughout the years, along with some comments:
1️⃣ Friends and family
Your family and friends want you to succeed and they will go out of their way to help you. They are particularly helpful when you are just starting out with a few professional connections. In my case, I landed my first internship at HSBC largely due to a referral from a good friend.
2️⃣ Existing connections from previous jobs and events you attended
Many of you are not starting from scratch. You likely have some existing connections from your previous internship or events you attended to the past summer. If so, it’s time to reconnect and develop them into champions of your career.
3️⃣ Referrals from professors
Even if you have no friends and family working in your target industry and you have never done any internship or gone to any networking events (unlikely), you can still reach out to your favourite professors and ask for an introduction to their previous students working in fields you are interested in. Many professors are well-connected in the industry and are happy to introduce you to his/her connections and former students – this is especially true if you did well at the professor’s course and actively participated in class.
4️⃣ Alumni database
I am almost certain that regardless of whether you are in a target school or not, at least 100 alumni from your university are working in the industry you are interested in – so you can start with that.
This can be the goldmine of networking – provided that you:
have a solid profile
reach out in an optimal way (i.e. personalize your note and put the focus on learning more about the professional’s career journey, not your goal of getting a job)
do it consistently (the hardest)
6️⃣ Networking events / info sessions / career fairs
This can be a bit hit-and-miss. You may be able to connect with a few professionals meaningfully but more often you will have very limited exposure since the firm rep/student ratio is more like 1/20. That said, I will still attend, speak to as many people as possible, and follow up within 24 business hours with reference to the unique talking points during your conversation with them (to help them remember who you are).
In terms of who to target, this is what I did:
Start from the lowest hanging fruit – usually that is your friends and family. Then move onto the second lowest hanging fruit, perhaps that is people you used to work with. After that, referrals from your professors and alumni network.
For professionals on LinkedIn, prioritize those that have something in common. Why? Because we humans like people who are similar to us. Therefore, you should:
Prioritize alumni over non-alumni
Prioritize those with a similar cultural background
Prioritize those with a similar path (e.g. engineering degree to investment banker)
Prioritize those with similar interests (e.g. CFA, travelling etc.)
If you are new to networking, start from those who are new to the industry and on the same level as your target position – they are more likely to accept your invitation and help you because they were in your shoes not too long ago.
If you are confident in your networking skills, target those who are actively involved in hiring decision- making. They are typically one to two levels above the position you are targeting.
Let us say you are a new grad pursuing an Investment Banking Analyst position, then experienced analysts/associates as well as VPs are typically the sweet spot. They are often in charge of recruiting new analysts (from visiting campuses to screening resumes) and their opinions directly influence who get the interviews and who don’t.
On the contrary, an MD (Managing Director) is usually too busy to meet with an investment banker wannabe for coffee (there are exceptions but few and far between).
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