We sat down with the Chicago Booth Career Services team and asked them for their tips on building a strong network of connections and mentors early on in your career. Their advice covers perfecting the first point of communication and the best ways to continue nurturing those relationships in the future.
Q: Is it necessary to have a mutual connection/company/school in common with a potential contact on Linkedin prior to reaching out?
A: No. While it’s certainly advantageous to have common ground to launch a conversation from, don’t let the absence of that stop you from conducting “cold” outreach! Tip: Try to find something on their LinkedIn profile to relate to - a skill, volunteer experience, expertise you are interested in, location, etc. This helps you create a shared experience and, as a bonus, indicates that you’ve made the effort to learn more about the person you’re hoping to connect with.
Q: Is there value to keeping my professors as part of my network?
A: Absolutely! You should think about each person you connect with as a great asset to have. Whether it be for advice, a request for a letter of recommendation, or connection to someone they know. Professors have their own professional networks that can include company contacts. They can provide referrals and recommendations if you maintain warm relationships with them.
Q: How can I structure my outreach to make sure that I get a response?
A: Be short and specific. A very brief intro of yourself, a link to something you find interesting about them, and a specific ask for time to talk (ex: 15 minutes on Tuesday), are key components to giving your contact something specific to respond to..
Q: What should my goal be during a network conversation (in-person or online)? What’s the most important thing I should be walking away with?
A: Go into all conversations only expecting to learn. Come with questions that highlight your interest and curiosity, listen to comprehend, and if you feel the conversation went well - you are well set to keep the relationship going.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Q: Ok, I’ve had my initial connection with someone I’d like in my network, what should I do next? Are thank you notes/emails still a thing?
A: Thank you emails are a must. They are a great place to establish your next conversation. Will you check in with them again in a month? Next quarter? Establish that timeline within your thank you.
Q: Once I've had an initial conversation, what are steps I can take to transition from a single meeting to being part of their ongoing network?
A: Ask the person if it is okay to connect with them on LinkedIn, and if they are comfortable with a follow up conversation. Then - actually follow up.
Q: How often should I keep in touch with those I’ve added to my network?
A: This truly depends on what you learn from each conversation. Only commit to following up with those folks who are truly adding value to your journey and those you have time to follow-up with.
Q: What’s the “right” number of contacts to keep in my professional network?
A: There’s really no magic number of contacts to keep- an expansive network does not hurt. However, one thing to stay away from is spamming everyone from a company/University/other specific group on LinkedIn. Make sure every connection you make is a thoughtful and intentional one.
Practicing your networking skills early on in your career allows you to benefit from a supportive community. Then you can hit the ground running when entering an environment like a Booth MBA, where you'll confidently engage with our global alumni network.
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