5 Essential Networking Steps for Undergrads and Grad Students

5 Essential Networking Steps for Undergrads and Grad Students was originally published on Vault.

Ten years ago, when I entered business school, many professionals told me that the journey ahead required significant investment in professional networking. So I followed their advice, and soon my calendar was filled with various networking events and meetings all over town.

Today, a decade later, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, as traditional cultural norms are increasingly replaced by new ones—elbow bumps replace handshakes; video calls are the new in-person meetings—I've been asking myself what I would have changed about my networking strategy all those years ago if there were a pandemic back then. And the answer is this: almost nothing.

Below are the five steps of professional networking that were applicable to me 10 years ago, and are still applicable for undergrad and grad students looking for internships and full-time jobs today.

Step 1. Read career guides and speak the lingua franca of your desired profession.

Career sites like Vault publish comprehensive guides on a variety of professions, from investment banking to management consulting. And these guides are key to understanding the language of your desired profession. Reading these guides are important because, during the job search process, it not only allows you to demonstrate your commitment to a certain career path but also validates your genuine interest in developing a certain subject matter expertise. For example, if you aspire to work on M&A transactions, you need to know what accretion-dilution modeling and football field analysis are. And if you aspire to pursue management consulting, you need to know what MECE and the growth-share matrix mean.

Step 2. Short-list companies from your desired industry and learn everything you can about them.

Organize your due-diligence by history, products and services, organization structure, market position, and areas for growth. Setup Google alerts for the companies in your short list so that you're in the know regarding recent news, announcements, and acquisitions. All of this will be extremely important  information when you're speaking with people who work at your desired companies. Having this knowledge is essential if you want to show that you're serious about your career, desired profession, and most desired employers.

Step 3. Find people at these companies with the job functions you're interested in.

It's important to find people at these companies that hold the specific job functions you're interested in and not just ones who happen to work there. You can make such connections via university alumni databases, platforms like Firsthand, professional interest groups, or LinkedIn. Names, functions, and email addresses might also be found on companies' websites depending upon the company and industry.

Step 4. Send these people personalized emails.

Don't send generic emails to your desired contacts. Instead, spend the extra time to send personalized emails detailing who are you (where you go to school, what year you are, etc.), how you found them (perhaps via a mutual connection or company website), and why you're reaching out–that is, to request an “informational interview” to learn more about their specific job function. “Informational interview” is key here—you're not asking for a job but an opportunity to learn more about a job function. And since you've already done your homework from steps 1 to 3, you'll have no problem demonstrating your genuine interest.

Step 5. Follow up with a thank-you note

After you meet with each contact—even if it's just virtually in a Zoom call or you merely corresponded via email—it's important to follow up with a thank-you note. And make sure you have a method for organizing your outreach efforts, documenting the date of your last communication, the things you learned in the interaction, and any follow-up actions you need to take. Note that if a contact didn't ask for your resume, don't send it as part of the thank-you note. If you did your job from step 1 to step 4 diligently, it's very likely that you'll be asked to provide your resumé. In that case, you'll of course send it along—and will then have a great chance of landing an interview with one of your desired employers.

Recipient of a Presidential Award from The White House, Vibhu Sinha is an intrapreneurial and bottom line-driven senior management professional with experience in leadership roles across banking and capital markets. He has advised institutional clients on corporate strategy, idea generation and pitching, financial planning and analysis, M&A, investor relations, and ESG. Vibhu developed his acumen in behavioral psychology at Harvard University as part of a master’s degree program and also earned an M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson.