Networking: Your way in

By Meagan Flynn

We’ve all heard it before: It’s not about what you know–it’s who you know.

As young journalists looking to set foot in the field, we should accept that that statement is true in many cases. While we are looking for the most ideal and beneficial internship, knowing people who know people–who know more people–makes it a lot easier to secure the right one. All it takes is a simple email or the drive to introduce yourself after a speaker’s presentation.

Last weekend I attended the ACP National College Media Convention in Chicago, where there were dozens of opportunities to network with dozens of speakers. One of the most beneficial sessions for me was on narrative writing–my niche. I made it a point to meet the speaker afterward, a longform supporter from CNN.

Somehow, I ended up talking to her for almost an hour. So, I’ve come up with a quick guide to networking:

1. Come up with a question

Oftentimes I want to meet these busy professionals but don’t know how to make it seem like talking to me is worth their time. If I don’t have a specific question in mind that I need answered, I think of a random–but relevant and good–one. It may not produce the most applicable-to-my life answer, but at least it gives me a basis for talking to them in the first place. From there, the conversation can go anywhere. It just needs a starting point. This time, I wanted to ask the speaker for some tips on the story I’ve been pursuing–maybe get an email.

2. Talk Last

Patiently, I wait for the other eager college journos to ask their questions. They think I’m being polite by letting them talk first–sure, I like being nice. But really, going last grants you an unlimited amount of time with the speaker. If you’re ever waiting in that awkward cluster-line to shake hands with a pro, make sure you’re at the end of it. You don’t feel under a time constraint or impolite for making others wait while you talk.  Image

3. Follow this person (not to be confused with chase/stalk)

Finally, the other journos are finished, and I get a turn. I explain to her the basis of my story and the issues I’m having with an interviewee. She gives some advice, seeming rushed. She wraps up. “Sorry, I need my nicotine fix,” she says. I have to walk the same direction, anyway, so we walk and talk. She asks me more about what I do and what I like to write–we talk shop. By the time we reach the doors to the cold, we’re in the middle of an in-depth conversation. I ask if she minds if I follow her. She keeps talking–an invitation, I assume.

Her cigarette goes out because she hardly pauses to suck down a drag–if only I had my notepad out to jot down all the advice she was spilling. She lights another square. Talks some more. Puts it out. I take mental notes all the while. We head back inside, and as I’m contemplating how to say goodbye, she says she needs a caffeine fix now. So I show her where the coffee shop is, wait for her to get her two grande iced mochas, follow her back down the escalator, and follow her back outside for yet a third smoke. For a minute I wonder if I’m acting puppy-dog-like.

Nope, I decide, just networking. And she keeps talking, so I listen.

4. Be human

Ditch the prim and proper goody-two-shoes facade and have a real conversation.

5. Be memorable

When I emailed her after the weekend, the subject: I followed you on your smoke break. “Love your subject,” she said. “I can remember that.” Well, perfect.

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7 responses to “Networking: Your way in

  1. This is in itself is an incredibly well-written blog post! I was riveted to your advice the entire time – and especially, I love your last two lines, specifically, your last sentence. Short, succinct, and humorous. I think the advice you pose is incredibly helpful! While I like the idea of networking, I can’t say I am very good at it. These steps make it easy. The idea of coming up with a question – any question – makes complete sense to me, and is something I will think to and have the drive to do in the future. I’m not sure if I would have the nerve to put the subject as “I followed you on your smoke break,” but it seems like it worked out well for you! So maybe I need to adjust my comfort zone. Do you think that that sort of a subject would work for any professional? Or do you think it depends on the vibe you get from the person? If the tone of your conversation is far more professional, do you have any advice on how to be memorable to them?

  2. I’m glad this will be helpful for you, Chelsea! And as for that email subject, we have to remember how busy these people are and how many emails they receive daily. Another speaker mentioned that he only opens emails according to the subject. The one I met specifically told me to make sure the email subject was something she could remember me by. I wouldn’t say the subject was necessarily “unprofessional”–not professional, either–but it’s the difference between being ignored and remembered. If we’re totally professional in every facet all the time, it’s hard to display character and distinguish ourselves. A lot of it had to do with the amount of time I had to get to know her, but yeah, I think a lot of it does have to do with the vibe. The vibe I first got from her at first was “I don’t have time for you, kid.” But after I got out of that introduce-myself-professionally-like-everyone-else tone, she seemed to take more of an interest in talking to me. Had I not been able to follow her out for a smoke, it would’ve been harder to have an email subject like that, but I would go for specifics instead of general. She offered to critique a longform story I wrote last year, so I would’ve said “Suicide longform article (We met at NCMC12)” as opposed to “Longform article.”

  3. You provided some great tips, Meagan. I wondered the same thing Chelsea did, whether the vibe the person gave off would make a difference with how to approach her. It would be interesting to follow some more of your networking and see how this one pans out for you.

  4. Meagan, you invite the readers to get take action on your insights, from your real experience and it is so informative. Especially “Be Memorable.” That can almost be make it or break it now-a-days. To stand out, to represent yourself right and show people what you have to offer you have to do it in a way that the person will leave and remember who you are and why they should want to contact you in the future.

    Because I know you so well, you do these things in your everyday life and it shows. Keep up the great work Meagan!

  5. Awesome post. I have realized that you really do have to make sure that you are memorable. Luckily enough, when I meet people they say they will remember my name because it is unique. That always makes me feel good. But just having them remember my name and nothing else, isn’t what I want. When I’m networking, I am professional but I always want to make someone laugh. I love when someone makes me laugh and I like to make people laugh. I often remember people if they made me laugh– so I always try to drop something, appropriate of course, in that will make them laugh.
    Your tips are great, and I can see you going very far one day!

  6. Thanks, you guys! And I’m glad you all picked up on that “Be memorable” part, even though it was so short. I put it last because I also agree that it’s one of the most important things you can do.

  7. I think these are an excellent set of suggestions.

    I really like your comment about talking last. It’s always good to have a person’s undivided attention. Besides, it means you don’t have other people looking at you like your hogging the person’s time.

    Being memorable for the first reasons is the trick for any social encounter, but it makes a lot of sense here. It’s always good to be remember when you run into a person again.

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