Everyone you meet has the potential to help you discover information, resources and connections to your first – or next – opportunity!
We use different networks for different purposes. We may have a network of friends who appreciate the same hobbies, sports or 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, focus on 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 the people in your network who may have contacts in that industry or in Boston. This may include friends, family, teammates and classmates.
If someone in your network draws a blank after being asked for contacts, 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.
Developing Your Elevator Speech
The elevator speech is a ninety-second-or-less mini-commercial developed to sell you. It's an invaluable part of networking and can be used whenever you meet someone new. Your elevator speech may be used for career fairs and industry career days, informational interviewing, employer information sessions, or other happenstance meetings.
Tell Me About Yourself
Essentially, when developing your pitch, think about the most impressive thing you could say in 90 seconds. You should provide an overview of who you are, what you have done, and what you are seeking. It is an opportunity to articulate your career goals clearly and simultaneously create a positive, lasting impression with the listener.
Your talking points should include:
- Your employment background and career aspirations
- Your education and work highlights
- Your current situation and what you are seeking (the purpose of the conversation)
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.
Breaking Down the 90 Seconds
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. 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. A career in this field will 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 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.
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. State your target jobs, industries or companies. If you are doing an informational interview or networking, mentioning names of organizations can help. If you’re in a job interview, your talk should target that organization and the job you are seeking.
Example: I'm currently 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.
Follow Up With a Question
Asking a question is polite and a way to promote two-way discussion. Some examples include:
- You're familiar with the industry. What other companies should I be considering?
- In what other fields do you think I should look?
- Do you have any other ideas?
Perfecting Your Speech
You'll need to practice your speech so that it feels natural. Try practicing in front of a mirror, while driving or in front of friends. As you practice, pay attention to your rhythm and whether you trip over certain words. Edit and tweak your speech until it flows easily. 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 deliver the speech whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Keeping It Flexible
Your speech needs to be flexible. Be prepared to customize it and make it responsive to the agenda and needs of the listener. It’s important to be able to expand your story 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.
Conquering Your Nerves
It's okay to be nervous, especially the first few times you deliver your speech. If you're at a networking event and find yourself getting nervous, 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 trying to be perfect. Having an easy question ready to ask the person after you've given your speech can also calm you. The easiest question − "What do you do?" − takes the spotlight off you and engages your listener.
Networking at Career Events
The key purpose for attending a career fair or industry career day is to expand your network. Attending such events enables you to meet employers and alumni who can provide information and referrals about jobs and internships.
Employers like to participate in these events because they can make contact with a large number of students. You can find out what kinds of positions are open within a company and if they would be a good fit for your interests. This is an excellent opportunity to explore careers and gather information about different industries and companies
Before the Event: Prepare
- Know your goal: Are you a sophomore gathering information, or are you a senior looking to be a part of a great company?
- Print off several copies of your resume. You can have different resumes targeted to different industries. Be sure they are printed on clean, white paper.
- Practice your elevator speech so that you have something to say that catches the interest of an employer.
- Focus on your skills. Employers want to know what skills you bring to the organization. Be prepared with two to three examples (e.g.: the team skills you developed through courses; the time management skills you developed by balancing courses with extra-curricular activities and part-time work).
- Find out what companies will be there and do your research ahead of time. Check the event listing in DoreWays a couple of weeks in advance for a list of employers who plan to attend.
- Your time with an employer may be limited. To maximize your time and connect with your top choices, make a list, prioritizing organizations of greatest interest.
- Develop a short list of questions you want to ask each employer.
At the Event: Perform
- Dress professionally. These events 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 in a sturdy folder or leather binder.
- 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 you're 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 jump into a conversation the recruiter is having with another student. Patiently wait for your turn.
- 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.
After the Event: Wrap Up
- Evaluate your career fair experiences and stay in touch with organizations to demonstrate your interest.
- Send timely thank you notes to all recruiters you met to show continued interest.
- Keep notes. Evaluate opportunities, impressions, highlights, correspondence/calls.
- Keep future appointments. If you scheduled an appointment to meet or talk with an employer, be sure to follow through. If you are unable to make the appointment, contact the employer in advance of your scheduled meeting time to notify them.
Networking with Alumni
Join the Center for Student Professional Development's online professional networking group on LinkedIn. Open to all Vanderbilt University students, alumni, parents, employers, and other members of the Vanderbilt community, this group aims to help Vanderbilt students establish professional connections and build relationships. The group provides a forum for sharing career, internship, and job-related advice, information and referrals.
VUconnect is a global, online Vanderbilt resource that will put you in touch with alumni who are willing to share information and referrals. With VUconnect you can build alumni networking relationships, search for and share career advice, and find a VU alumni chapter near you for fun and educational events. Connect with Vanderbilt, wherever you are!
You can also sign up to connect with alumni in your hometown or in a city you're targeting after graduation. The Alumni Association has chapters in most major U.S. cities and several foreign countries.
Check out the Alumni Association Chapter events in your city to make new connections and network.
VU Alumni Career Network
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 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 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 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 (e.g. 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 your contact for their time and assistance.
Technical Assistance with VUconnect
If you have problems registering with VUconnect, please visit the Registration Help page. You may also contact Alumni Relations with any questions by email at: email@example.com or call the Help Desk at (615) 322-5578. Help is available weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST.
Using social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to network can be very beneficial if done right. One important rule to remember is to protect your professional image online. Messages or images that you post online will be seen by hiring managers and HR recruiters, and there are numerous stories about candidates being passed over because of things posted on social networking sites.
You should use the privacy settings built into these social tools to help keep your information visible to only those within your social circle. However, you should always think about how a status update, tweet or photo might be seen before posting on these sites.
About Dan Ryan
In his role as Principal at Ryan Search & Consulting, Dan leads the talent acquisition and talent development processes for the firm and their clients. The primary market segments for the firm include engineering, construction, architecture, manufacturing, health care, life sciences and economic development. Dan earned a M.Ed. from Vanderbilt Peabody College, an MBA from Tennessee State University, and a B.S. in engineering physics from Murray State University. He is an adjunct faculty member for Vanderbilt Peabody College and has also taught at Belmont University.