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Networking often sounds either tiresome (e.g., wearing old-fashioned name tags, exchanging business cards, and scrambling to exchange tickets for drinks), or superficial (e.g., speed-dating, giving 60-second “elevator pitches” to win a prize, and joining lots of LinkedIn groups where you don’t know anyone), or both.  It doesn’t have to be, but it needs to be done properly in order for it to be worthwhile to you and to those with whom you connect.  Below are some of our suggestions based on our work with our current and former students, our coaching clients, and even our experiences as customers. 

1) Begin in school:  get to know your professors and help them

One of Karen’s students at Michigan State volunteered to be her teaching assistant for her Retail Promotions class.  She showed up every day for a class that she had already taken, helped with distributing and grading assignments, and mentored other students

Karen received a call once from a corporate recruiter as she was going into a lunch meeting.  Because she realized it was for a former student who really needed a new job, she took the call, even though it meant that she would be late for her meeting.  Karen gave the former student a glowing recommendation.  Later that day, the alumna emailed Karen thanking her saying that she had just received a job offer doubling her current salary!

In his career, Aneil has taught thousands of MBA and undergraduate students.  Many of these students have made it a point to spend time with him outside of class, having lunch with him, or spending time just chatting in his office.  In the years since they’ve graduated, some of them have kept in touch with him, invited him to speak to their organizations, and even served as guest speakers for his classes. When it came time for them to make decisions about switching jobs, or to consider leaving corporate life for divinity or nursing school, Aneil was then glad to serve as a sounding board for these alumni, and to even write recommendation letters for them.  Professors know people, and if you make the effort, they can really get to know you.  They can then connect you to those other people in powerful ways that very few others can.

2) Jump-start your day with some old friends, and make some new ones.

Whether it’s with a grande, non-fat, extra-hot mocha (Karen) or a venti soy cinnamon dolce latte with two pumps of white mocha (Aneil), sharing a beverage before you start the work day or after you’ve finished your weekend workout is a great way to stay in touch with friends or make new friends.  

One of Karen’s students decided to have 52 cups of coffee with different people over the course of one year.  She didn’t necessarily know who they would be or how it would go.  She also didn’t know what she wanted to do when she graduated.  Her year of having coffee led her to new job as an alumni ambassador for Michigan State University.

3) Become a mover and shaker by starting your own movement

Karen’s student Kristen wanted to start a TEDx movement at Meredith College.  She talked to professors and students and created her own committee.  Now this event will occur in Spring 2013.  She will meet interesting people along the way and will probably find her dream job as a result.  The number of connections she’ll make will be huge.  If nothing else, she will get an amazing recommendation from Karen for all of her hard work and determination to create something of impact for her school.

4) Hit the road, Jack (and Jill)

Stephanie wanted to do an internship in Nashville because she loved country music.  She had no connections there and knew that there were many schools in Nashville that had priority for internships, but she was determined.  She sent letters and followed up and landed a coveted internship where she created a marketing plan for George Strait’s Christmas album!

5) Performance in your current gig will help you get your next gig

When we were shopping in a clothing store last week, two employees actually walked away from us, neither wanting to help us check out.  When Aneil called them out on it, Karen tried to laugh with them saying, “I teach retail: I’m sure you are just exhausted after a long day.” They both laughed and said, yes, “we are tired, we are wearing our Sunday ‘slacker clothing,’ and just want to go home.”  The female employee continued to look at messages on her smart phone, and finally the male employee reluctantly took our items and allowed us to pay for them.  If we’d had more time, Aneil would have Yelped about the experience and given the store one star out of five.  If they had realized how their appearance and demeanor mattered, they would realize that this job could lead to an even better one.  

In the near future, with the ubiquity of video recording capability, location services, and social networking apps on smart phones, customer encounters will certainly become part of one’s “online resume” for better and for worse. These folks could have taken a tip from our favorite Starbucks baristas.  We have actually read resumes, provided recommendations, and helped to find jobs for our favorite Starbucks baristas when they decided to explore other career opportunities.   We did this because they consistently provided us with outstanding service, day after day (and always smiled at Aneil who is not a morning person), along with those drinks that get us going in the morning.

You never know how or where you will be networking next.  It might be when you are making or getting coffee or it might be when you are talking to your old professor or to a new friend.  Make the most of your connections and your network will grow.

Karen Mishra and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012)