Are you still not sure what to say to your boss when you walk into the office? That’s okay, you’ve probably never been told. Networking is the most important skill a college student can learn, but there’s very little guidance and way too many examples of how to do it wrong. It’s time we learn how to do it right. Consider this your crash course in turning your required-for-graduation internship into a promising lifetime gig.
1. Great networking starts with confidence
When it comes to networking, you need to focus on what makes you awesome and marketable. Stock your closet with clothing that makes you feel like Don Draper or Jackie O. Wake up at 6 a.m. so you can make that 7 a.m. yoga class. Do whatever you know works to make you feel as strong and self-assured. I met a woman that could not function at work without MAC’s Ruby Woo lipstick—no other lipstick had the same effect. It doesn’t matter how weird your thing is, no one has to know but you.
2. The devil is in the details
You are not just a brand. You are a person. If you really want to knock the socks off your boss, listen and ask questions. When you walk into your office, stop by your boss’ office and say hello. If she’s not busy or feels talkative, embrace that small talk. “Can you believe this rain?” turns into a conversation about her trip next week to Scotland. What are you going to say the day they come back? “How was Scotland?” It seems insignificant, but remembering small details like that proves that you care and can interact on a social as well as a professional level. When you remember her, she’ll remember you.
3. Happy hours are not optional
Just because someone is your co-worker and comes from your peer group doesn’t mean they’re not an important connection. When your co-worker asks you if you want to hit up brunch this weekend, don’t say no. The reality is that you will be working with people in your same peer group for most of your life. That person you met for brunch might work for a Forbes 500 company in five years, and who knows what position they’ll have. That’s an important contact to maintain.
4. Practice your elevator speech
If you don’t know what an elevator speech is, it’s basically a 30-second summary of who you are and what you do. It’s what you could say in the span of elevator rising to the next floor (hence the name). We’re not all gifted with the ability to talk about ourselves on demand, so rehearsing and memorizing an elevator speech is an invaluable tool for making connections. Whip it out when you’re at work social events, round table meetings and literal elevators. You never know who’s going to be there and what they’ll have to say.
5. Get to know who they know
This is the essence of networking: it’s not about knowing people, it’s about getting to know their people. Someone in your network lives in Chicago, and you want to move there after graduation. Reach out to him. You want to work in hospitality in Chicago? Ask them if he knows someone who does. Chances are, he might. That’s an easy foot in the door, because you’re no longer sending out cold emails that might be ignored; you have a mutual friend and some common ground.
6. Stay in touch with ev-er-y-one
I got my first paid research assistantship with a professor who rejected me for her project. I kept in contact, and when we were at the same poetry reading, she told me she had a project that she thought I would love. It turns out, she only rejected me because my interests weren’t right for her work. Because I stayed visible, she didn’t hesitate to call me when she had a job that fit. The lesson? “It’s not you, it’s me” isn’t just a lie your boyfriend tells you; it’s real. Keep in contact with people want to work with, because chances are, it might pan out in the future.
7. Be respectful… and not just in person
You need to show respect in all aspects of your life, including social media. Don’t say or post anything that could risk insulting someone else’s beliefs or opinions. I had a professor who successfully managed to tick off the entire athletic department at FSU when he tweeted something along the lines of, “Outplayed and outdone” after FSU’s football team lost to NC State by one point (FSU fans who remember this day, a moment of silence). Sure, we did have our asses kicked at the last minute by an unranked team and yes, we were outplayed, but it still insulted the athletic department. He did manage to smooth things over, but there’s no guarantee that you would be able to do the same.
8. Take off the blinders
So you work in education. Does that mean every conversation you have with everyone is about education? Please, no. That’s exhausting. While you should be well read in your field, you also need to stay on top of what’s going on in the big ole world around you. Trust me, it pays off: I had an entire conversation with a former terrorist in Northern Ireland about Pitch Perfect (wish I was joking)—it led to an invaluable interview with a notoriously elusive person. Always be prepared to talk about at least five different things at any one time. Read the news, follow Twitter and stay involved with the world around you.
9. Learn how to use LinkedIn properly
LinkedIn is Facebook for professionals, and you should use it that way. If you’re still just using it like an online resume, you’re doing it wrong. Repost interesting articles related to your field. Add connections every time you meet someone, even if it was for five minutes and he’s your average UPS guy (have you seen Legally Blonde? UPS guys are important). Join groups with similar interests and participate in discussions. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Just take 30 minutes once or twice a week to stay on top of your LinkedIn life. Maybe it won’t land you a dream job, but it shows you’re actively engaging in your work, and that’s impressive.
10. Being a bitch is an earned privilege, not a right
When you’re Beyoncé, you can be a tough bitch and say things like, “I’m not bossy, I am the boss” with your perfect hair as much as you want. Newsflash: when you’re an intern, you’re not the boss. You’re probably answering phones and filling coffee cups. By all means, take yourself seriously and stand up for yourself, but you’re not Beyoncé 2015. You’re like Beyoncé 1996. No work is beneath you when you start out, so suck it up and do the grunt work. More than anything, be a good person. Your co-workers shouldn’t be singing, “Ding dong, the witch is dead” when your internship semester is over; suppress the diva.