Find Your Dream Job, Episode 185:
Networking Tips for New Graduates, with Shawn Lipton
Airdate: April 4, 2019
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This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.
I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.
That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to Shawn Lipton about networking tips for new college graduates.
Shawn Lipton believes that good networking leads to career success. In his work with new college graduates, Shawn sees many of these new professionals struggle with networking.
Shawn says many in this group worry no one wants to talk to them. Or that someone will feel put out if asked for advice. In fact, Shawn says, the opposite is true.
Good networkers of all ages, he adds, aren’t backslappers. They also have a methodical approach to staying in touch. And they network when they don’t need to network.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I talk to Shawn Lipton about his networking tips for new college graduates.
Shawn Lipton is a certified master coach. His company, The Trusted Coach, has helped thousands of students and professionals land jobs and develop careers.
Shawn is also the author of “50 Proven Networking Tips for Career Development Success,” and two other books.
He joins us today from Seattle, Washington.
Shawn, thanks for being on the show.
Thank you for having me, Mac. I’m looking forward to the conversation today.
I am too because I know this is a topic you care a lot about. Obviously, you’ve written a book, but I know from an earlier conversation before the show, that you talk to your clients about this a lot, particularly new college graduates.
What common networking challenges do you see that group, new grads, face, Shawn?
Absolutely, it is a topic that I’m very passionate about and really the core of it and the foundation is, I really feel that new graduates don’t really have that great a grasp on the power they have in the networking arena. Many that I work with just feel that they have nothing to offer, professionals don’t have the time to meet with them, or they really don’t know what to say or they don’t know what to ask or, again, fundamentally they can’t bring that much value.
When, in actuality, if they make the effort, most professionals are willing to have a conversation with them and as a new graduate, they have, in many respects, more power than someone who’s been out for 10 or 15 years, and what I mean when I say power, I mean to connect. To make that initial contact and to have a really robust conversation.
I’m curious, Shawn, because I know you’ve been working in this field for some time now, is this a new challenge for recent graduates or has it always been this way for people who are coming out of school no matter what their generation?
It’s been this way for a long time. I mean, Mac, as you know, the majority of jobs that people get are really through networking and now probably even more so. I mean, I would say now, over the past 5, 10 years when it’s become so easy to apply for a job that every single company, every single role receives thousands and thousands of applications and if you’re behind your computer and you’re applying for 10 jobs and you’re like, “But Shawn, I applied for 10 jobs today but I haven’t gotten any bites.” You’re not looking for a job.
You have to incorporate these relationship building techniques into your overall strategy in landing a fulfilling position and if you don’t, you’re really putting yourself at a massive disadvantage.
I’m glad you brought up the point about how easy it is to apply for jobs because it does seem counterintuitive and it’s certainly ironic. While it’s never been easier to apply for a job, the competition for the online positions has just gotten fiercer and fiercer, hasn’t it?
That’s right. Yeah, it is kind of ironic because you would think all these sites make it easier and facilitate that type of connection but you really need to be out there and you need to be connecting and there’s, with LinkedIn and with other social media platforms, it’s easier now than ever to identify potential people that might be great contacts and where you can get a lot of information as you’re thinking about your next steps.
Well, you mentioned the challenges that new grads face when they start to network/ Let’s talk about how they overcome those challenges.
Shawn, how do you recommend people get started, the people that you work with?
There are a number of ways to really start building relationships and as I mentioned, this whole concept of, there’s power as a new graduate and I would add, as a student as well. What I mean by that is, you really don’t have to have everything figured out.
You need to be at least focused enough to have a direction, so if you’re having a conversation and it comes back to you and people say, “Well, hey, Mac, what are you interested in?” You need to be able to give them a solid answer.
But in terms of reaching out to people, all you need to do is really be genuine and share that you’re just starting out in a certain field but you’re just trying to figure things out and get a lay of the land and were wondering if somebody could spare 10 or 15 minutes of their time.
You could do that with warmer types of contacts, family friends, your friends, friends of friends, people you grew up with, but even through LinkedIn, you can have pretty good success.
For example, you want to try to get as warm of a lead as you can but let’s say, for example, you’re interested in, you majored in marketing and a year out you haven’t been able to land anything, and you went to Washington State University. You can do an advanced search on LinkedIn; Marketing, Washington State University, and let’s say you’re looking in Seattle and obviously thousands of people will come up.
You could start looking through that list and try sending messages to people. You really need to make it tailored. If you’re just saying, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you. Do you have a few minutes of your time?”, you’re never going to get a bite but if you really make it tailored and you put in the time to connect, you’ll be surprised that people are willing to talk to you because they’ve benefitted and they want to pay it forward.
For example, “Dear Mr. Lipton, I noticed that you have developed a really strong career as a marketing professional. I’m a relatively recent graduate, passionate about marketing, but I’m just trying to get a lay of the land of how to really break into this field. As I look at your background, you’re doing the work that I hope to do one day. I really don’t know how to get started and I was just wondering if you could spare 10 or 15 minutes of your time. Go Cougs. Regards, Mac.”
Okay, well, I love the reference to a university and also the specificity of that request because a couple of things you’re not doing in that example, Shawn, is, you’re not asking to pick someone’s brain or take them out to coffee. You’re asking for very well defined things, aren’t you?
Without a doubt. A very specific amount of time. Now, granted people will give you more time and it’s okay. You can ask to take someone out for coffee, you can ask somebody to pick their brain as well. That’s all part of it but the key is that you’re not just job searching; you’re really looking for information and once you start having those conversations and people start seeing what your background is and what you may bring to the table or that they feel that there’s a connection as well, they’re going to be willing to help you as you start looking for roles.
At the very least, you’re getting incredible information. As you’re developing your strategy on how to land a great position, you’re getting more and more knowledge.
One, you’re getting information. Two, you’re developing a relationship that you want to maintain and build for your career because you want to be a part of this community but the key is to really tailor it.
Now, you can connect with people that maybe you didn’t go to the same undergrad with but it’s a nice connection so obviously if you look at UW, you look at OSU, you look at U of O, you look at WSU, these schools have strong bonds. Granted, there are thousands of people that went to those schools but it’s still a way to sort of establish common ground.
I’ve found, when I talk to job seekers, often they forget to check their alumni databases and that’s such a lost opportunity, isn’t it? Because every university, whether it’s public or private, produces people who are successful.
They’ll almost always make time to talk to fellow grads, won’t they?
They really will. It’s uncanny but you have to make the effort and it is hard work. It is a lot easier just to submit your resume online. This is really being creative and tailoring the message.
It’s thinking about what questions you want to ask, it’s thinking about your own message and people are going to not respond to you and you’re going to get no’s and sometimes the conversations that you do have won’t go well, but if you keep at it, percentages are that you’re going to connect with people that really want to help and really want to invest the time in you to guide you as you’re launching your career.
Shawn, I know there are listeners out there who are saying, “Okay, you talked about the benefits – relationships, information, and that’s great – but, Shawn, I need a job. How is this conversation or a series of these meetings going to help me find and land a job?”
A lot of your listeners, whether they’re seasoned or new grads, have heard that you really need to be building relationships in order to land a job and at the end of the day, it’s true.
You absolutely have to do that and it’s like anything else…if I’m moving to Portland and I need a doctor I’m going to ask somebody or I’m going to try to find referrals. This is the same exact method. If you’re in front of somebody and all of a sudden you have a connection and people are like, “Wow, you’d be a really great fit for our company.” Or, “I have a really great friend that’s actually looking.”
You’re just increasing your percentages dramatically that you’re going to land. In addition to that, so many positions never get posted, as we know. These conversations that you’re having could end up being what I like to call planned happenstance. Where you’re having a discussion and all of a sudden there may be an opportunity for you.
The key to remember is that you’re not using this to job hunt. You’re using this to gather information, you’re using this to connect, you’re using this to learn, and through that, opportunities will come your way and hopefully, they’ll come quickly but you can’t go into it thinking, “Oh, well, I just had this conversation with this guy and I didn’t get anything out of it.”
You have to go into it thinking, “Hey, I want to build, I want to be part of this community, and I want to build relationships.”
The tough aspect of it is that there may not be instant gratification. It’s not the same as, “Hey, I studied for this test, I took the test, I got a good grade.” How you have this result based immediately on the studying that you did.
This could take time but the people that stick with it and don’t give up, even when you’ve had 15 or 20 conversations, are the ones that land and land well.
Well, we’re going to take a quick break, Shawn. When we come back I want to talk more about what people should do in these conversations but I also want to hear your advice about other ways of networking besides the informational interviews we’ve been discussing.
We’ll be back in a moment and when we return, Shawn Lipton will continue sharing his networking tips for new college graduates.
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Now let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Shawn Lipton. He’s the founder of The Trusted Coach.
Shawn is also the author of “50 Proven Networking Tips for Career Development Success” as well as two other books.
He joins us today from Seattle, Washington.
Shawn, before the break, we were talking about informational interviews and the benefits that come from that and the importance of building relationships.
Can you talk a little bit more about what people should do in those conversations, in those 15 or 20-minute meetings?
Well, it goes without saying that you really need to be prepared. There’s a fine line, obviously, between doing your research and stalking so when you’re trying to learn about someone you’re going to meet, LinkedIn is fair game. 100% fair game and if there’s a bio on a website, obviously that’s fair game too. Facebook, not so much. If they have a Twitter feed, that could be good fodder too.
You want to do your research about the individual and about the company and remember that it’s a conversation. You don’t want to go in there and just say, question, answer, question, answer. You really want to think about what they may be dealing with within their role and also just show that you have done that research and can ask questions that are not the norm.
For example, you could ask something, if you’re meeting somebody in marketing at Microsoft and they’re working in the cloud with Azure, you may say, “You know, it seems like Azure has done unbelievably well in the past couple of years of really gaining market share but AWS is still the major player. From a marketing perspective, what kind of things have you done to really differentiate the product from AWS?”
What’s the benefit of asking a question like that? How is that going to help a job seeker?
You can see that question, one, it really shows that you’ve been thoughtful. You’re not just coming in there and saying, “Oh well, what do you do?” One, it really shows the person, “Okay, this guy actually knows what he’s talking about and he’s thought about the work I do and he knows the industry a little bit.” You’re really showing that you have knowledge.
Two, is that you really start to understand whether or not you enjoy that work and if you can imagine yourself doing a similar type of role and whether or not you would thrive in that role. There are just many, many benefits.
Okay. Before somebody leaves that room in that 15, 20, 25-minute conversation, what do they have to accomplish before they walk out the door?
I wouldn’t overthink, “Hey, what are my goals and what do I have to accomplish?”
I would really look at it, if you leave that conversation saying, “That person got to know me a little bit. I was myself.” Then, one, I’ll pat you on the back. You did great.
Two, you do want to learn. You want to get knowledge, you want to learn, you want to find out about what the person does, you want to find out about the industry, you want to get some advice, you want to get some tips.
If you’ve done those two things, you’ve had great success. Third, you want to keep in touch. At the end, if the conversation went well, there are a couple of things to really end well.
One, just say that you look forward to keeping in touch and you can ask a question in an open-ended way. Not necessarily like, “Oh, by the way, are there jobs here?” But you could ask the question in an open-ended way. For example, where you may say, “This seems like such an amazing company and the work you do seems so interesting. How does one go about getting a role in a company like Microsoft?”
If you feel like the conversation went really well, you might be able to ask that but equally important, if the conversation went well, the last question you should always ask is, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. I’m just getting a lay of the land, so do you know anyone else I should talk to?” If you get a contact or two, you’ve also hit a home run.
Anything you recommend people never do in these conversations?
Never ask for a job. Never say, “Oh, well, I’m looking for a job, do you have any roles?”
Again, because you’re presenting yourself as someone looking for information and then all of a sudden, if you come in and you just are showing that you’re very opportunistic and you’re just looking for a job and this is a means to an end, then your credibility is shot.
Remember, whether you’re New York City, LA, Portland, or a smaller, even much smaller city, it’s a small community. Every industry is a small community and all you have is your reputation so go in there and be genuine and connect with the person you’re talking to and, although you do want a role, never ever go into a conversation looking for a job.
Go into it thinking, “Hey, I want to connect with this person, I want to learn from them, and I just want to learn more about the industry and,” again, just be part of this community. Also, in the back of your mind, always think, “How can I contribute?”
For a newer graduate, as we discussed earlier, may think, “Oh, well, I have nothing to give.” But in actuality, you have plenty. They might have a son or daughter who’s thinking about going to the same school, they may be thinking about majoring in marketing, they may be curious about things that you do well, maybe that’s social media. They may be interested in your internships.
You bring something to the table as well.
I’m glad you brought that up because I think so many people, whatever stage they are in their career, when they’re job hunting think they…don’t recognize how much they have to offer.
In addition to the informational interviews that you described, Shawn, what are other good networking tips that you share with new grads?
As I mentioned, one, some informational interviews, some may have to be colder through LinkedIn, but as I discussed, you really want to leverage all potential contacts that you may have.
Another area that’s worth exploring is to get involved in an industry association. Most pretty big cities will have a lot of different organizations, professional organizations. There may be a communications organization, there may be a marketing association, and depending on the city and the chapter, some are more vibrant than others but those are also worthwhile getting involved in.
You don’t want to choose more than one or two or maybe just one, but really just dive, really get involved, really volunteer, make yourself somebody that’s known within that group of people. That can be a great way to build relationships and connect and learn.
One of the greatest tips I have, if you’re going to, let’s say, an association meeting or a meetup or an event, is show up early. Be the very first person there. A lot of people like to show up fashionably late, do the exact opposite of that. There are so many great benefits by doing that.
One, if not that many people are there, the person or the people that are hosting the event, maybe the executive director of the organization or the leadership board, they’re not busy so they may have time to talk to you so you may get a connection with them right away.
Two, the early birds all congregate together because you’re the only ones there. I still do this, and this has worked for me for so many years, a lot of times I’ll be one of the first people at an event and then somebody else walks in and that person’s also looking for somebody to connect with. I’ll walk up and introduce myself, and I almost feel like I’m the host of the event.
This tip, if you take anything away, please take this tip. This will serve you well.
The opposite, you can imagine, you just don’t get the bang for the bucks. You show up late, everybody’s already there, if you don’t really know anybody, if you’re just searching for a friendly face to talk to, it’s crowded, and you just can’t get into a groove.
Associations and events that are specific to your area of interest can be great, great networking opportunities but take my tip and show up early.
I love the show up early tip but the other thing I’ve seen happen when people do that is that executive director or the chair of the board is there and they’re still setting up and you have the opportunity to pitch in and help. Whether it’s unpacking chairs or helping spread out the food and that, I find, creates an even closer connection.
Absolutely. Another great point.
Well, we’re coming to the close of the interview, Shawn. I’m curious, what do you see the best networkers do? Not just new college graduates but networkers in general.
The very best networkers are not the backslappers, they’re not the people necessarily working the room. The best networkers are the ones that are amazing at keeping in touch and have a methodical approach to staying connected with everybody they’ve met.
It’s much easier to make a contact than maintain it so you want to have, whether it’s a free CRM online, Customer Relations Management software or you use an Excel spreadsheet to start or you use Google Contacts. All of these can work but you want to be very methodical in maintaining your database of people you’ve met with.
Then, you want to keep in touch and I’ll just give a couple of great tips on how to keep in touch effectively.
One, obviously, after you’ve met with somebody you always follow up and you send them a thank you note. That’s another touch point so people will get back to you and say, “Absolutely, I enjoyed the conversation.” Hopefully.
One of my greatest tips is, whenever you meet somebody, invariably they’re going to give you advice. New graduates especially but even if you’re 15, 20 years out and you’re doing an informational interview, you’re going to get advice. One of the best ways to reconnect with somebody is to, if you have taken that advice, and in many cases you do, let them know.
“Dear Mac, just wanted to send you a quick note. You probably don’t remember but when we met you suggested I ABC. Well, I just wanted to let you know I took you up on that advice and it’s really served me well. I hope you’re doing well, I looking forward to reconnecting at some point. Best regards, Shawn.”
You can imagine, people are going to get back to you. They’re going to say, “Good. I’m glad that was helpful.” So you, all of a sudden, you have another touch.
Other ways to stay connected is, you could send holiday emails. I send a personalized New Year email to hundreds of people each year and it’s just a way to maintain contact but in any case, keeping in touch is so, so critical.
Well, Shawn, terrific advice, now tell us, what’s next for you?
I guess the big things down the pike for me, one, is just continuing to do what I love. I spend the majority of my days doing two big things: one, helping people tell their stories. I do a ton of interview prep in almost every industry. Obviously, being in Seattle, a lot of tech but also people who are in HR, Academia, or a variety of different industries.
Continue to do what I love. Which is really help people tell their stories effectively so that they can land positions.
The other area that I spend a lot of time on is helping people figure out what they want. So often, I’m meeting with people who are unhappy or they just have no sense of how to leverage their background, their skills, their experience, their natural abilities, what’s important to them.
Spending a lot of time working with clients to help them figure out what may be a number of ideal paths.
Third, on a side note, is I also have a great passion for China and I work a lot on helping Chinese students who are studying in the States succeed.
Good. Well, I know people can learn more about you, your company, and your services by visiting your website, thetrustedcoach.com.
Shawn, thanks for being on the show today.
Thank you, Mac. I really enjoyed it.
I did too. Take care.
There was so much good advice in that conversation with Shawn.
Here’s one thing that stood out to me: it was his point about the purpose of informational interviews. So often, as he and I talked about, I hear from job seekers who say, “Well, if I can’t ask for a job, why am I meeting these people?”
As Shawn said, in the end, it’s all about the relationships that you make in your profession because those ties will serve you so well, not only during a job search but during your career.
They are also great preparation for job interviews because when you talk to people about your goals and what you’re looking for in an informational interview, you’re basically rehearsing for a formal job interview. That kind of preparation is so important.
Here’s another way you can get ready for a job interview, check out our new online resource for behavioral interview questions.
We’ve got a free guide. It’s called 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.
You’re going to be asked one or more of these questions in your next job interview why not get ready now?
Get your free copy. Go to macslist.org/questions.
Well, thanks for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Lisa Lewis. She’ll explain how to rebrand yourself when changing careers.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.