Networking can seem like a daunting task, especially as a young professional. What can I say to impress a potential employer? How can I possibly describe my entire career and life aspirations in a 30-second “elevator” speech? How do I approach a member of the institution I have been longing to work with? The self-serving nature of networking and the pressure to impress is enough to leave anyone feeling queasy.

The truth of the matter is that if networking makes you feel squeamish, you probably aren’t doing it right. Networking should not be a guise for self-promotion. Rather, it should be an attempt to build a genuine relationship, making the experience as much about the other person as it is about you. Networking is hard work, but it should be a positive experience for all parties.

As a young professional in international education, networking is one of the most important things you can do to help advance your career. Knowing your goals, with whom to talk, timing, and what to say is an art—and an important one at that. Building connections in international education takes a network of colleagues and partners who can share advice and experience, and help you find solutions.

Saroj Siegler Quinn, senior external liaison officer for the City University of Hong Kong, shares her tips for networking your way to the top:

  1. Networking isn’t exclusively an art or a science, it’s more like a blend of both. Use tools like LinkedIn (science) to help you creatively (art) reach out to colleagues and people you meet.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Networking can get a bad rap as something entirely self-serving or something that is only relevant in the business world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Networking is first and foremost about making yourself available to help others without expecting anything in return. The next step is knowing when it’s “your turn” to tap into your resources. Try to keep the give/receive formula skewed toward giving and you are likely to reap the rewards from your contacts.
  3. To be a successful networker, you MUST be comfortable talking to strangers. This is true…but in the digital age, those who are shy to speak up in public have the added benefit of sending a written follow-up message via e-mail (or other medium) that may result in an engaging interaction.
  4. Networking opportunities often happen when you least expect them and come in all shapes and sizes: Informal, formal, within your organization, outside of your organization, within your field, outside of your field, etc. No matter when a networking opportunity arises, it’s important to be prepared to make good conservation and listen.  It also helps to always have a few of your business cards on you.
  5. Networking is about establishing connections and cultivating them. Being organized helps too. Keep all your contacts in one place (LinkedIn, a card binder, Excel spreadsheet) and keep notes on how you met the contact. Periodically go through your contacts and send a short note. An update about your organization/institution, you or a news article that you think would be of interest to them is a great way to show you were listening when you met.  If you don't have anything to send you can always just send a "hello, how have you been" e-mail.
  6. Networking strategies, approaches, norms, etc. vary across cultures. This is particularly relevant to the young professional in international education. If you are in a new environment, try and take a moment to observe and analyze the situation before diving in.
  7. Being confident and assertive is good; being aggressive is not! It’s also important to stay positive even if you are frustrated. No one enjoys talking to someone with a negative attitude.
  8. In-person and virtual networking complement each other. Follow up calls/e-mails and thank yous go a long way.

Attending the NAFSA 2013 Annual Conference & Expo in St. Louis? You can meet Quinn at the Young Professionals in International Education Networking Event. Join us for a morning of coffee and conversation with Quinn and other young professionals in international education.

The presenters will be introduced by NAFSA President and Chair of the Board of Directors Dr. Fanta Aw, and they will be available to speak with you about their diverse career experiences.

Saroj Siegler Quinn is the senior external liaison officer for the City University of Hong Kong. She works on internationalization strategies, expanding CityU’s partnerships, exploring new markets, and recruiting international students. Prior to joining CityU, Saroj worked as a director at the Institute of International Education, contributing to the KAUST and Fulbright programs, and at American Councils for International Education. Saroj’s past international experience includes study abroad in Australia, an internship with the U.S. Department of State in Jamaica, work abroad as a Princeton-in-Asia fellow in Thailand and Sri Lanka, and extensive personal and professional travel. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Princeton University and a master’s degree in higher education administration with a concentration in international education from the George Washington University.