Networking is simply connecting with people for mutual benefit. Hands down, this is the number one way people find jobs and internships. It's as simple as the person sitting next to you telling you where you can get tickets for tonight's sold out concert. We provide information and referrals to each other every day, but for some reason, the word "networking" scares us to death.
We use different networks for different purposes. We may have a network of friends that appreciate the same hobbies, sports, and books as we do. Once you realize all of the people you know and the people your friends know and the people they know; you may have hundreds or thousands of people in your network.
To be successful in networking, you need to think about what you want to get accomplished. For example, let's say you want an internship in finance in the Boston area this summer. Think about those in your network who may have contacts in that industry and/or Boston. This may include friends, family, teammates, classmates, basically, anyone you know. If someone in your network draws a blank after being asked for contacts; always ask: ask if they know anyone who may know someone in Boston or in finance? You can also research finance companies in the Boston area to see if you have connections with any of their employees. It's like playing detective.
Good luck and remember; everyone has potential to help you discover information, resources and connections to your first or next opportunity!
Developing Your Elevator Speech
What if you found yourself on an elevator with a recruiter that you wanted to impress, and he was getting off at the seventh floor? What is the most impressive thing you could say in 90 seconds? Essentially, the elevator speech is a ninety-second-or-less mini-commercial where you are selling yourself.
While this personal sales pitch derives its name from the chance elevator encounter scenario, this tool can be used anywhere you have the opportunity to meet contacts in your desired field. It can provide an overview of who you are, what you have done, and what you are seeking. It can allow you to articulate your career goals clearly and at the same time, create a positive, lasting impression with the listener.
This commercial/speech can include:
- Your employment background and career aspirations
- Your education and work highlights
- Your current situation and what you are looking for (the purpose of the conversation)
Remember to use your commercial/speech to stimulate their interest in learning more about you and to confine your introduction to the average attention span.
When to Use It
- When responding to "Tell me about yourself"
- Informational Interviewing
- Career Fairs / Industry Career Days
- Happenstance meeting with a new person
- Any social situation
What to Include
The purpose of an elevator speech is to paraphrase who you are and what you have to offer. It answers the question that may or may not have been asked: "So, tell me about yourself." The most effective way to tell someone about yourself is to focus on your most relevant attributes for that specific person.
Keep it short. You don't want your speech turning into a Shakespearean monologue. When you're crafting your elevator speech, take a moment to identify the one or two key points you want to drive home. What do you want the listener to remember about you? Talk about one or two of your most impressive skills or accomplishments or talk about your interest, niche, or passion.
Using the 90 seconds (or given time for the situation):
- Discuss your past (in 60 seconds or two-thirds of the "perceived" time you have)
Present the big picture: where you're from; how you chose Vanderbilt; your major and other relevant educational information; and discuss your job-related experiences and your key skills/abilities. Think about what is important to the listener (given the situation) and target the conversation in that direction.
Example: "I am from Louisville, KY, and I came to Vanderbilt because of its national recognition, and its strength in biomedical engineering. I majored in BME because of my interests in the medical field and my analytical strengths. I see that it can allow me to use both my technical skills and people skills. I coupled this with a minor in managerial studies to get a better understanding of the business side of the technical field. Last summer I had a summer job at Jones Pharmaceuticals where I supported the sales team in the southeast region. I was able to go into the field and see the sales force in action, as well as stay in the office and analyze sales trends."
- Discuss your current situation and/or desired future (in 30 seconds or one-third of the "perceived" time you have)
Talk about what you are doing now and what you want to do in the future. Be as specific as possible. Talk about your target jobs, industries, and/or companies. If you are doing an informational interview or networking, mentioning actual names of organizations can help. If it is in an interview, your talk should target to that organization and the job you are seeking.
Example: "I am seeking good experience for next summer. I would like to do something in the medical device field with companies such as ABC Devices and Medical Stuff USA. I hope to get exposure to the more technical side of medical devices"
- If you are informational interviewing or networking, ask a question of the listener.
Asking a question is polite and a way to promote two-way discussion.
Example: "Do you have any other ideas?"
Example: "You're familiar with the industry. What other companies should I be considering?"
Example: "In what other fields do you think I should look?"
Perfecting Your Speech
Practice makes perfect. In practicing, you'll notice different things, like your rhythm might be off, your tongue might trip over certain words, or it just might not feel like it's really you. For some personalities, it totally makes sense for them to say, "Hello. My name is Jones, and I'm completely committed to doing training and helping people become the best they can be. That's my passion." But if you're shy and soft-spoken and say, "I'm passionate about math," that passion just won't come across. It's very important that the style of your speech reflects you as an individual.
If you feel your elevator speech sounds forced, practice in front of a mirror or in front of friends to help make it feel more natural. And if you're worried about the length of your speech, practice it while riding in an elevator or use a timer.
You never know when an opportunity will arise, so make sure your speech is always in the back of your mind. The key is to have enough fluency with it to be able to go into the speech whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Conquering Your Nerves
If you're at a networking event and find your palms getting sweaty, it's okay to admit, "I'm a little nervous, but let me tell you a bit about myself." It will take the pressure off to be perfect. Having an easy question ready to ask the person with whom you're speaking once you've given your speech can also calm you. The easiest question, "What do you do?," takes the spotlight off you and puts it onto them.
Keeping It Flexible
Your commercial/speech needs to be flexible. You need to customize it and make it responsive to the agenda and needs of the listener. It is important to be able to expand your story when the opportunity presents itself or to hold back if that is more appropriate. In either case, once you are comfortable with your basic story, you will find telephoning, networking, and interviewing to be easier and more rewarding.
Get Connected Networking Panel
David Frederiksen, Owen '96, President and CEO, PatientCredit Inc
Jordan Kendig, PB '05, Solutions Specialist, W Squared consulting
Barrett Sellers, PB '01, Talent Agent, William Morris Endeavor (WME)
Networking at Career Events
You can expand your network by attending events like a career fair or an Industry Career Day (ICD), where you can meet employers and especially alumni who can help you by providing information and referrals. Regardless of your year, your major, or your career direction, career fairs can provide a valuable resource as you explore careers and seek employment. Whether you’re interested in one organization or many, full-time positions or internships, career fairs and ICDs can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your job search efforts.
These events offer Vanderbilt students and alumni multiple opportunities to meet face-to-face or in a virtual setting with prospective employers or academic admissions personnel. The Center for Student Professional Development sponsors several events throughout the academic year which can be found on our Events page.
The purpose of a career fair or ICD is to network. Employers like to participate in these events because of the number of students with whom they can make contact. At these events, you can find out what kinds of positions are open within a company, as well as find out more about the company and if they would be a good fit for your interests. This is an excellent opportunity for you to explore careers and gather information about different industries and companies for which you may be interested in working. You must prepare before you attend such an event.
Before the Event – Prepare
- Prepare to dress in business attire.
- Know what your goal is: Are you a sophomore gathering information, or are you a senior looking to be a part of a great company?
- Have plenty of copies of your resumes. You can have different resumes targeted towards different industries. Be sure they are printed on nice paper.
- Prepare a thirty-second commercial about yourself so that you have something to say that catches the interest of an employer. Introduce yourself, show your knowledge of the company, as well as your enthusiasm, and tell them what you have to offer (see Developing Your Elevator Speech above).
- Focus on your skills. Employers want to know what skills you have to bring to the position/organization. Before you go to a fair, give thought to your skills, accomplishments, experiences, interests, strengths/weaknesses. Be prepared with two to three examples to use (i.e.: the team skills you developed through courses; the time management skills you developed by balancing courses with extra-curricular activities and/or part-time work).
- Find out what companies will be there so that you can do your research ahead of time. Check the Career Cluster listserv email or Center website a couple of weeks in advance for a list of employers who plan to attend.
- There will be lines of students waiting; therefore, your time may be limited. Make a list to prioritize your organizations of interest. You’ll maximize your time at the fair and connect with your top choices.
- Develop a list of questions you want to ask each employer.
At the Event – Perform
- Dress professionally. Career fairs require the same attention to attire as interviews. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring multiple copies of your resume. Bring an appointment book in case you have the opportunity to set up an informational interview. Keep all these materials organized throughout the fair.
- Smile, show enthusiasm, maintain eye contact, and be your (professional) self!
- Greet the person with a firm handshake and maintain eye contact.
- Stand alone and be independent. Try not to move in groups with your friends.
- Have an open mind. Approach lesser-known companies in order to discover their potential.
- Have a sense of humor and be personable. Talk conversationally with recruiters.
- Inquire about obtaining further information about the company.
- Remember to "close the deal!" Take the initiative and ask what your next step is.
- Take a business card so that you can follow up with a thank you letter. If you were unable to talk with the recruiter but picked up a business card, follow up with that employer and convey your interest.
Things NOT to do:
- Don’t be afraid of recruiters. They attend career fairs to meet qualified candidates!
- Don’t pretend you are interested when you are not. Don’t schedule an appointment if you don’t intend to keep it. You may be preventing a student who is really interested from obtaining an interview.
- Don’t overstate your abilities; you’ll end up in a job that you are not able to do. Present yourself and your abilities in a convincing manner.
- Don’t monopolize the recruiter’s time. Sell yourself, make a good impression, and give the next student the opportunity to do the same.
- Don’t ask questions about salary!
- Don’t insult the recruiter. Cultivate the recruiter as a contact in your network.
- Don’t just throw your resume on the table. It will probably be thrown into a pile. Take time to market yourself.
- Don’t jump into a conversation that the recruiter is having with another student. Patiently wait for your turn.
After the Event – Wrap Up
- Congratulations - you did it! You just took a major step in your job search. Make the success last: evaluate your career fair experiences and stay in touch with organizations to demonstrate your ongoing interest.
- Send timely thank you notes to all recruiters you met to show continued interest.
- Keep notes. Evaluate opportunities, impressions, highlights, correspondence/calls.
- Keep up the good work. Use a variety of job search strategies in addition to job fairs to round out your job search.
- Tell us about it. Let the Center for Student Professional Development know what you experienced and how it helped or what you learned. Also, we welcome feedback about the overall event.
VU Connect is another great resource that will put you in touch with Vanderbilt alumni who are willing to share information and referrals. VU
A Vanderbilt network of alumni, students, and friends worldwide. This is a valuable resource for Vanderbilt students and alumni to help build your network and get/share career advice. Are you connected?
IMPORTANT NOTE: For help with VUconnect, please see this page and follow the instructions there. Please contact Alumni Relations with any questions you may have by email email@example.com or call the Help Desk at (615) 322-5578. Help is available weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.
Guidelines for Contacting Advisors
- Always contact alumni advisors using the preferred means of contact noted on the advisor profile.
- The VU Alumni Career Network is not a job search resource.
- It is appropriate to ask advisors for networking advice, job/internship search strategies, or even an informational interview, particularly within the advisor's own industry category or job function.
- During your initial contact, there is no need to attach a resume. Introduce yourself, express your reasons for contacting the advisor, and describe what you are seeking to accomplish/learn through the interaction.
- Choose advisors and make contact with a specific purpose in mind. Plan ahead of your initial contact what you will ask. Be able to clearly articulate what you are looking for and how the advisor may be able to help you.
- Research the advisor's company or organization. Be able to demonstrate knowledge about their employer when you make your initial contact .
Guidance for Approaching the Initial Contact:
- State how you received the advisor's name
- Indicate why you are making the contact
- Make a specific request (guidance, advice, information, etc.)
- Indicate your next step (arrange a meeting, next communication, etc.)
Questions to Ask About a Career Field:
- What types of positions are available in the field?
- What general skills are most important to possess to succeed in the field?
- What kind of training, education or background do you recommend?
- What are some alternative methods of entry into the field?
- What characterizes a typical entry-level position in the field?
- What is the outlook for the future of the field in terms of new and expanding employment opportunities?
Questions to Ask About the Advisor's Organization/employer:
- What are some of the strategic goals of the organization (i.e. business expansion, new products or services, facility development)
- What is the philosophy of the organization?
- What types of employment training programs are available?
- Can you describe an entry-level and a mid-level position? Can you describe your job?
- What is a typical career path from entry-level to top management?
Always thank the advisor for their time and assistance.
You can also sign up to connect with alumni in your hometown or in a city you want to move to after graduation. You can choose to join up to 3 Alumni Chapter cities to receive e-mail invites for great Alumni Association events, where you can meet VU alumni and make valuable networking connections.
All students are invited to attend every Alumni Chapter event, so it will definitely be to your advantage to join. However, this applies to current students only. Alumni options are directly tied to your address in VUconnect, so make you keep it up to date.
Obviously, there are many ways to network and using social media can be very beneficial if done right. One quick rule is to protect your professional image online. Below is a PDF of the slide presentation given by VU alumnus, Dan Ryan, who discusses "Using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to aid your Job/Internship Search and your Life."
The staff of the Center for Student Professional Development are eager to support you in identifying and pursing professional opportunities. Our career coaching staff and peer career advocates are available for individual and group coaching appointments and professional development programs.
It is through the coaching relationship that you will maximize your opportunities and fully leverage Center resources to meet your professional development needs.
To get started, stop by the Center for a Coaching Assessment during Coaching Express. This 20-minute session with a Career Coach gives you a chance to have your resume critiqued, get answers to your questions, or develop an action plan for next steps.
Visit our News and Events page to see Coaching Express times and locations.
For more information about any of our services, contact our office today!