TUN sits down with Natalia Guarin-Klein, the director of the Magner Career Center at Brooklyn College, to discuss networking tips for college students.
TUN: Natalia, thanks so much for joining us.
GUARIN-KLEIN: Well, thanks for having me.
So, let’s start with on-campus networking. Where’s the best place on campus for college students to meet people who could benefit their future careers?
Sure. I think the main thing is anywhere. Anytime you get to meet someone, in any way, is a chance to network. I think, sometimes, we get stuck on the idea that the term networking means an event or a one-time thing. The reality is that anytime you go to a student club, like student newspaper or student government, those are opportunities to meet people — you never know. When you’re talking to one classmate, they could tell you about an opportunity or a person they met.
We always emphasize to students that it’s really about building relationships, not so much one transaction. You want to build relationships over time. So, I would say, just be active on campus. There are a lot of clubs that are career-focused. If you’re interested in journalism, join your student newspaper.
In addition to that, the career centers and academic departments’ offices on campus will often host guest speakers or career panels, and those are events where you’re going to be introduced to professionals in your field or who are in line with your interests. Not only the people that are presenting but also the classmates, faculty and staff that are in the room obviously have a similar interest. So, that’s a great way to talk to them and see what they have to say or what resource they could share.
Great. So many students are online right now. How can these students network while they’re stuck taking classes from their couches?
In some ways, it’s a little easier. I think it’s easier for those that do feel intimidated. It’s also a little bit easier because you do have a little more time. You’re not commuting, so you’re saving some time.
I understand because my whole family, we’re introverted. I understand that nervousness of trying to reach out to people and feeling uncomfortable. But, I’ve also learned, over time, how important it is.
So, I think the easiest thing is to start with family and friends, asking them about their careers even if it’s not something you specifically are interested in. Ask about why they chose it and what they would do differently. Then, ask them if they have friends and other connections that might be willing to talk to you too. That’s easy because it’s with someone you know might be willing to make an introduction.
Another tip I might suggest is, getting reacquainted with your high school or junior high friends. That’s something that I’ve done over the years. I would organize reunions. In this case, you could do a virtual reunion.
These people may not be ahead in their careers. But, I think a mistake that people make is that they want to connect with people who are already established and then they lose connection with the people who, in the future, are going to be the managers, the directors and the VPs. So, start that connection now with your classmates or reconnecting with your high school so that when you’re five or 10 years out, you’re not trying to scramble to get back in touch.
I think connecting with strangers is important. LinkedIn is obviously a powerful tool. And, I think one of the easiest ways of doing it is by using the alumni of your college. There are easy ways to see that on LinkedIn. Reach out to them and say, “I’m a current student of X, and I’d like to talk to you about your career.”
I would say, make a goal. Maybe you say to yourself, “I’m going to contact 10 new people per week.” I’ll tell you, now, not all 10 will respond. But, if one person responds and you do this over a few months, that might be 10 connections that you’ve established over a few months.
Great. So, many students have networks at home, which are made up of teachers, coaches, parents and friends. Some students, like those who grew up in foreign countries or have immigrant parents, however, don’t have as big of an at-home network. So, what’s the best way for these students to grow their community networks?
Sure. I can relate perfectly. My parents were immigrants. I’m first-generation. My parents worked in blue collar jobs, so they definitely could not, themselves, provide that guidance.
But, what they could do is ask their employer. They would ask the people that did know certain questions that maybe they couldn’t answer. So, use all the people that could be connections, even if they’re not in the field that you want to go into.
If you think about a teacher, maybe you don’t want to be a teacher, but the teacher might have best friends or be married to someone who is in the profession that you want to be in. So, it is using those people that you do know, even if they’re not exactly in the field that you want to pursue. They may know someone.
I would also say that there are a lot of programs. You’re part of a college campus. There are going to be events. There are going to be mentor programs, and there are organizations outside that do establish ways for people to have mentorships or career events. It’s taking advantage of all of that’s available to you so that you’re expanding that network little by little.
Great. So, now back to random reach-outs. I know randomly reaching out to people working in the field that you’re aspiring to enter can be intimidating. But, it also can be a worthwhile move. So, do you have any tips on how students should go about making these random networking reach-outs?
Sure. Absolutely. Again, as I mentioned, it’s something that I learned a little later.
As much as we emphasize doing well in school, which I encourage, I think as we get older, we realize it’s connections that often make a big difference. And, I think that, sometimes, parents don’t always emphasize that part. We emphasize, “Do well in school!” Again, you should do that.
But, I’d say just do it. What I mean about that is, just do it. Like, just go at it and try. In terms of my tips, here’s a simple thing: people either want to help you or they don’t. What I’ve learned over the years is, it doesn’t matter how successful they are, how rich they are or how well you know them, people are either helpers or they’re not. So, do not be intimidated if somebody is “more powerful,” because I’ve interacted with successful alums who are wealthy and are also the most down-to-earth people who will help anybody. Someone just needed to ask them.
Don’t be shy
The key is just asking. What’s the worst thing that happens if you reach out to someone you don’t know? In my 20 years of helping thousands of students, probably the worst thing is, they don’t respond or you get a gentle, “I’m sorry. I can’t help.” That’s it. Nobody is telling you off or getting mad at you. They generally just won’t respond, so you really have nothing to lose by reaching out to someone you don’t know.
I think it’s important, though, to be specific. You don’t want to reach out to someone and say, “I see you work in journalism. What’s that like?” or “Can you get me a job at your company?” You don’t want to be broad so that it seems like you’re not putting any of the legwork yourself.
Instead, if you’ve done your research, say, “I’m interested in going into journalism. I see you have a successful career. I’d love to get your advice to make sure that I’m on the right track. Do you have 20 minutes? I can provide some questions in advance.” I think the messaging that you use to reach out to someone you don’t know is important.
Then, finally, don’t take anything personally. If you reach out to someone and they don’t respond, just move on. It’s okay. Most people who have made it to where they were helped by someone. I think that those people remember and they’re actually flattered when someone reaches out to them to say, “I’d like to learn from you.”
We like to feel good about what we’ve accomplished, and most people want to help someone that they see is eager and willing to work hard. Just keep it in mind that people want to help, are flattered and that nothing really bad can happen by trying.
Great. So, it’s always good to be professional. Do you have any tips about how students should act or what they should wear while networking?
Sure. So, as a follow-up to what I said a little earlier, I think it’s important to do your research and to really think through what your message is to the person. I get it all the time. “Do you know any jobs in finance or in journalism?” and there’s nothing more to the message.
It’s like, well, do I know what company? What position? You know, I could send you something and then you could respond, “Oh, no. I don’t want to work for that company” or “I don’t want to work somewhere out of New York.”
So, being specific about your interest and doing that research and homework upfront is important.
Although it’s not an interview, officially, always treat it as it is. The same tips apply. So, if you’re calling or eventually meeting them in person, be on time. Be a little early, actually. Never be late.
Do your homework!
As I mentioned, preparation is important. Aside from doing the research, come up with really good questions that you could send to them in advance so that they see that you did that homework, you did that preparation, and you want to use their time wisely.
You don’t want to ask them, “What does your company do?” if it’s a big company that you could have done research on.
You don’t want to ask them, “How do I get a job at the company?,” when all of that’s advertised. That’s not the best use of the person’s time.
Certainly, in terms of attire, I recommend at least business casual. So, a nice button-down shirt and slacks. If it’s an industry that’s more formal, then wear a suit. I always think you should dress to the level of the person who you’re meeting with.
Remember to say thanks!
And then, as we always advise, write a thank-you note after. It sounds like something common or that everybody does. But, I think it’s still a lost art. I think showing appreciation is so critical. People have taken their time. They didn’t have to help you, but they did. It’s a chance to show the appreciation but also reference some of the things that you took away from the meeting. It makes people feel good to know, “Wow, I did help someone, and they did listen.”
Keep in touch!
And then, keep in touch. We connect students with alumni all the time, and we will emphasize following up, sending a message and keeping in touch. A small percentage actually does, and, often, the alumni say “I never heard from anyone.” They kind of feel bad. “I guess no one was interested. They never reached out.”
So, keep in touch, especially if they helped you in some way. If they helped you prep for an internship interview, let them know you got it. Or, maybe just, “Hey, I’m graduating this semester. You’ve helped me so much throughout the year. Thank you so much.”
People are invested, and they want to know the outcome of the relationship. They want to know how it all ended up. Obviously, we’re all busy. So, I usually say the holidays are always a good time to reconnect with someone that maybe helped you, even if it was six months ago. Just wish them well and give them an update.
Great. Well, thanks, Natalia, for joining us today.
Yeah. My pleasure. Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.