#AskAHiringManager: The Truth About Networking Effectively
By Khadejah Stegall
Khadejah is a part of the TLC College Ambassador Program and a recent graduate of North Carolina A&T State University
How many times have you met a recruiter at a career fair or networking event, emailed him or her, and failed to receive a response? No response does not mean that you weren’t a good candidate—it may just say that your approach to networking wasn’t the best. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, the sound of networking may make you cringe or excited. In today’s world, building a secure network is essential for gaining a plethora of opportunities to advance in your career.
We spoke with Career Coach and Recruiter Stephanie Swanbeck to give us insight on what goes on inside a recruiter’s mind when a candidate wants a job opportunity. Swanbeck has recruited at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and start-ups. What sets Swanbeck apart from other recruiters is that her career aligns with her values and enjoyment, which is helping people in all areas of their life whether it’s coaching them in career, relationship or life in general, Swanbeck finds deep personal fulfillment in her work.
Swanbeck shares with us how she got hired at Google off the strength of her network, how to stand out at networking events and networking tips for introverts.
Q: If someone is interested in a job at a company and they don't know a single employee there, what is the best way to go about trying to meet someone in the company to "network?"
A: Depending on your age and where you’re at in your life journey, my recommendations would differ. Regardless of what your age is, I would recommend using LinkedIn to find someone in the role you want at the company you want, and send them an engaging message letting them know you’d like to get coffee and learn more about what they do. Coffee is a polite offer, and it will then be up to them to say you can come over for lunch, they only have time for a quick call, or they don’t have time to help at all. Keep in mind that they probably get messages like this all the time, so you have to find a way to stand out. The more robust your LinkedIn network, the more effective it is. However, I realize that new college graduates may not even have a LinkedIn profile. If that is the case, I would recommend using Facebook. Keep track of which friends have ended up at which companies, and re-establish your connection with them. Share your goals with them so they can tap into their network and see if they know someone who can be helpful. Proceed with caution, though – do not associate with people who post pictures of excessive partying, nudity or other scandalous topics on their social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram. Keep in mind that recruiters are super sleuths, and if you have any dirt out on the internet, they will find it.
Q: Do you recommend LinkedIn for networking? If so, could you give an example of how someone can effectively network on LinkedIn to get an interview with the company they like?
A: Yes, I definitely think LinkedIn is the best networking tool that currently exists. The people search function is super helpful, if you know how to use it. What I did early in my corporate career before I had a robust network was I would try to find the exact recruiter that is hiring for the role I’m interested in. Some job postings will tell you who the job poster is, but I’ve noticed that this is happening less and less frequently. Say, for example, that I want to be a Recruiter at Facebook. Facebook is a huge company, so I would definitely need to narrow down my options. There is something called R4R, which is recruiters hiring for recruiters. With this knowledge, I would use LinkedIn to find recruiters at Facebook who identify as R4R. If it doesn’t get me to the exact recruiter for the role I want, it will at least in all likelihood get me to their co-worker, who would then pass me along to the correct recruiter. This process is actually very important because recruiters are super busy, so if you’re way off and contact a recruiter in an entirely different department, they won’t have the time or desire to do research and figure out where your inquiry needs to go, so really do your best to target the right person.
Q: What has been your experience with networking ? Could you name some of the opportunities you've received or offered just off the strength of networking?
A: My experience with networking has been a really interesting one, and I’ve definitely learned that there is more than one approach to it. In my career coaching practice, when a client brings up the fact that they want to expand their network, the first thing that I ask them is if they are an introvert or extrovert, as introverts and extroverts network differently. I could probably do a whole interview on just that. With extroverts, networking will come effortlessly so they don’t have to work as hard at it. Introverts may require a bit more strategy due to limited social energy and so on and so forth, but the best networker I know, who is actually so well known for his networking that he made it into Fortune magazine as Best Networker, is actually a big introvert and even shy! So if you’re reading this and you’re an introvert, please don’t be discouraged. I would recommend that all introverts read the book Quiet by Susan Cain, as it will help you understand what your natural tendencies and needs are as an introvert, which will then help you come up with a networking plan that works for you.
As far as opportunities that I’ve had due to networking, they have been so numerous that I can’t even count them all. One example is someone I worked with at LinkedIn referred me to come work on his team at Google, so his boss reached out to me, and the rest is history. Things like this happen often when you have really worked hard to build a strong network.
Q: A recruiter may meet many people at a networking event or career fair. What are some good ways to stand out at networking events so the recruiter will remember you?
A: You’re right, recruiters meet so many people at these types of events that we typically only remember a handful of people. One thing you can do which is super helpful is to have your picture printed on the resume that you hand in to the recruiter. It may feel weird doing this, but just think of it like any online profile where you also have a picture. With all the names passing through the recruiter’s head at the event, they are not likely to remember you based on your name alone. Giving them that visual que will help jog their memory. Also, keep in mind that Silicon Valley is an extremely competitive place to work. What this means is that having a good work ethic is no longer enough. You need to have a personality that stands out as well. Again, there are still ways to pull this off successfully even if you are an introvert. I always recommend to my clients to create a person brand, and then fully commit to it and own it. Maybe play it up a little bit more at these events so that you’re more memorable. Let’s say you have a strong, competitive personality and you are bold. Great! Maybe wear red and give my hand a strong squeeze when you shake it. This gives an impression that you’re an outgoing, bold, confident person. I will not remember someone who wears a sad tan suit or a basic grey outfit. Are you more on the quiet side? Not a problem! I once met a Stanford student at a Stanford career fair and although she was more on the quiet side, I remembered her because she wore a light pink lace dress (embracing her demure personality while avoiding those unmemorable neutral colors), she had a picture on her resume, and when I got her talking about her passion for the environment, she lit up and spoke as loud and quickly as an extrovert. General rule of thumb for introverts at these events: talk louder and faster than feels natural, and make sure to keep eye contact. It may feel weird, but it will come across well in this kind of setting.
Q: What are your thoughts about the saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know?" Have you found this statement to be true on your career journey?
A: I still think that what you know is important, however, in the highly networked Silicon Valley, if you don’t have an internal connection, your resume may never be seen. Think of networking the way you think of eating healthy or exercising – it must be done regularly if you want to see lasting results. Choosing to spend time networking is one of the healthiest decisions you can make for your career, and it can be easy too! Get involved with a group at church, join a singles Meetup group, ask friends to introduce you to other friends they think you should know. The networking doesn’t always have to be targeted. If you’re chasing down a specific job that you want, being targeted and strategic is best. However, growing your network in any way is a positive thing and can be beneficial. For example, just because you’re the only Software Engineer in your hiking Meetup group doesn’t mean you can’t make meaningful and important connections. You may discover that someone’s brother is a UX designer at Apple and can refer you, or someone’s husband is a Product Manager at Yelp and can refer you, and so on and so forth. So yes, I definitely agree that who you know is very important, and it’s been important in my career as well. Make sure to start building a quality network as early in your career as possible.
Khadejah Stegall is a lifestyle blogger and oversees the college chapters at The Life Currency. She enjoys family time, eating vegan meals, and mentoring others on professional development. For more, follow her blog at khadejahstegall.com.