Building a Professional Network (when you don’t have one)
The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to build a professional network when you don’t have parents, family, or friends to introduce you into a profession.
Prospect. The 1st step is to identify a professional working in a business that interests you or that you intend to enter. A simple way to do this is to run some search terms in Google related to the industry and position titles, which should pull up some LinkedIn accounts for industry professionals. A better way to do it would be to read the trade press in the field you would like to enter. The Indianapolis Business Journal, which is in the library (that’s the building on the east of the quad with all the books in it), publishes a “book of lists” that includes executives for Indy’s top businesses across a range of categories. The IBJ also includes lists of executives who have recently joined new companies or been promoted.
You should choose someone that you’re really interested in speaking with. Questions are better when they’re authentic, as are conversations. Aim high. You’ll be surprised who you can get in touch with. For the purposes of this exercise, you need to choose someone you don’t know: no family members, friends of family members, neighbors, etc. This is a cold call.
Research. After identifying a list of individuals, do some research on the industry, the company, and the person. An Internet search is a good place to start—LinkedIn profiles, company websites, etc.—but a library search is even better, especially when search trade publications. You’ll want to prepare some “good” questions in the event you can get someone on the phone. And be prepared. Sometimes prospects will invite you to call them right away. Do your homework. High level executives are busy and generous in giving you their time. Don’t waste it.
Contact. I suggest sending a brief email introducing yourself and asking for 15 minutes of time to learn more about the job and the industry. Tell them why you’re contacting them (it’s flattering) and that you’re looking for insight and advice. Then, try to arrange a time to set up a call.
Questions. You’re asking for insight and advice, so prepare some genuine questions you have about the industry, the job, and/or the individual’s background. Often, opening questions will spur a longer conversation but it’s good to have some other questions prepared to keep the conversation flowing. In addition to questions about content, ask for advice: “What advice to you have for someone like me looking to do what you do?” Finally, ask for referrals for other people you should speak with.
Written Summary. For the purposes of this exercise, write a brief summary of your experience.
- How did you identify your prospect?
- How did you establish contact?
- What did you talk about?
Aim high. You’re better than you think you are!
 A “good” question is one in which the person you’re interviewing says, “that’s a good question.”