Networking for Economics Majors: Getting Contacts for the Job Search
By Bill Conerly
The key to economics majors finding jobs is networking, I wrote in Career Advice for Economics Majors. A few students have written asking: “How do I start networking when I don’t know anyone?” Here are some ideas for getting your first few contacts, then expanding from those people.
(Those who are already in the business world might look at Patrick Galvin’s The Connector’s Way.)
Start with two goals: the ultimate goal and the proximate goal. Your ultimate goal as a college student is probably to find a good job, good being a composite of good pay, good opportunity for advancement, interesting and suitable to your personality. All too often people focus on just any job without thinking of the other factors. (That will be encouraged by the student’s parents, who don’t care about personal fulfillment as much as the student not ending up living back at home. I know. I’m a parent.)
The proximate goal is to learn about the types of work done by economics majors. You want to know about pay, but also the other factors. How much of the work is “big picture” versus detail-oriented? Does the job involve working alone most of the time or working with others? How much will you learn about the business and how it makes money? There are plenty of other questions along these lines; I suggest making a list of similar questions.
Once the proximate goal is hit and the student knows about one or two types of jobs that would be good to land, it will be time to use the network to find an opening. Look for that in a later article.
With those goals in mind, here’s how to start. You’ll need two or three tools. The first is LinkedIn. Set up an account on LinkedIn and spend a few minutes learning about it. Don’t buy the premium service; use the free version.
Now look for your first contact: a college graduate economics major with a job. Ask your professors. Ask the placement office of your college. Ask the alumni office at your college. You should be able to get a few names.
Local business groups are a second approach. A community college student asked me for advice, saying that my suggestions seemed more appropriate for a four-year college. I say give it a try; no telling what you’ll come up with. And then look for business meetings, such as the chamber of commerce. Chambers often have business networking events. If they charge a fee, ask if they have a student discount; explain what you’re trying to do and ask for a break. Paying a few bucks for a networking event may be worthwhile.
At the networking event, go up to people and introduce yourself. You may find someone standing alone, but more likely you’ll have to break into a conversation. Don’t worry. It’s a networking event, so that’s expected. Walk up, wait for a pause in the conversation, say “Hi, I’m Adam Smith. May I join you?”
When you have a chance, ask the folks you meet what they do. How did they get into it the field, do they like it, is it social or solitary, and so forth. When asked about yourself, explain that you’re trying to learn more about the kind of work that econ majors do. If they mention someone they know who is an economics major, pull out a notecard from your pocket. I use 3Ã—5 cards so that I’m not burdened by a notebook at a stand-up reception. Write down the name and how to contact the person. Collect business cards whenever you can.
It may be helpful to make up some business cards for yourself. An office supply store will have business card forms that you can run through a printer, and there are pretty cheap online options.
When networking, be especially attentive to “referral sources.” These are people who know a lot of other people. Attorneys, financial planners and stock brokers, bankers, accountants, and insurance sales representatives usually know lots of people. They want to be helpful for their own selfish reasons: they benefit from building their network, too.
When you get back home, pull out the business cards you’ve collected. Enter the names in a notebook, your other tool. Search for the people on LinkedIn (using Advanced Search if they don’t pop up immediately). When you find them, connect. (LinkedIn tip: it’s easy to connect with friends of friends, who are called second-level contacts. For others, look for the “Send XXX InMail” button, then mouse over the down arrow, and select “connect.”) LinkedIn will ask how you know the person. If you have a business card, call yourself a friend. Personalize your message, saying that you were happy to meet them at the networking reception, and asking them to keep in mind your desire to meet with working people who have economics degrees.
When you get a name of a working person with an econ major, start with an email if possible. Explain your proximate goal and ask for a meeting. If the person lives or works close to you, offer to meet in person. Otherwise, ask to schedule a phone call. Here’s a sample text for a first email:
Milton, I was given your name by David Ricardo. I’m an economics major at Fenwick University and I’m trying to talk to econ majors about the work they do so that I can figure out what type of job to search for. Could I talk to you about your job and what it’s like? I’d be happy to schedule a telephone call at your convenience, or I could stop by your office. Thanks for your help.
Before you have the meeting, write out a list of questions. You won’t actually read them, but you’ll use them to get the conversation started. There is a list in “Career Advice For Economics Majors.”
Be ready for questions about yourself. You don’t want to pitch yourself as a possible employee right now, but you do have to be ready to answer questions. Be ready to describe the parts of economics that appeal to you, which may be quantitative, or related to current events, or understanding business decisions.
Finish the interview by asking who else to talk to. Every name you get should be entered into your notebook. After you’ve made contact with the person, make a big X next to the name. Once you’ve contacted everyone on a page, mark an X through the entire page. This keeps you organized on who you have yet to call.
Now you have begun your network. In a later article, I’ll explain what to do when you find the kind of work that most appeals to you.
This article was written by Bill Conerly from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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