Demystifying Networking and Getting Started

Creating Professional Relationships

Posted by Matheson Parmar on July 22nd, 2020

Lop-sided ratios of students to industry professionals, students dressed in suits and ties, anxiety over breaking the proverbial ice; this basically sums up a networking event. One key component of a Commerce student’s time in university is networking. It is how you stay up to date with industries, learn about specific roles, get internships, and more. Back in first year, I had no idea what a network was, how to network, or how powerful it was in career development. Thankfully, since first year I’ve become more aware of what networking is. I hope to demystify some of the myths related to networking and how to be prepared to tackle any networking situation whether you’re a high schooler and university student.

Demystifying Networking

Networking is Self-Serving

Networking doesn’t have to be Machiavellian. While the act of networking is undertaken with the intention of bettering yourself, it is almost always better to view it as a mutually beneficial relationship. Take Jimmy Fallon from the Tonight Show. In the short span of 5 years, he went from “Saturday Night Live” alum to titan of the entertainment industry leading the Tonight Show. Fallon took a genuine interest in learning about the people he reached out to and helped provide insight to other big names in entertainment like Jay Leno.

I have no time for networking

Especially as a university student, time is scarce. Between preparing for exams, working to finance your education, and extra-curriculars, there is hardly any time left in a day. One thing that I found personally very helpful is to network at lunch breaks during the school year. I would schedule a phone call with a professional, that way I spent my lunches more productively.

The more I do the better

Well… yes and no. There is an old adage that if you throw spaghetti against a wall, see what sticks. While this is true for many things such as perfecting an instrument or practicing a sport, you have to be more strategic when networking. You don’t need to attend every networking event and meet every employee from every company. Instead you should determine your career goals and attend events and speak to individuals who can help you meet them. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first year was trying to cast too wide of a net and I spoke to people in marketing, supply chain management, finance, and consulting, when my interests only lied in a few of those specified areas. Lastly, it is more important to have a few strong genuine connections than to have many weak acquaintances. The power of a network is not validated by the number of people you know, but rather by the quality of the relationships. Going back to what we said in myth 1, research has shown that mutually beneficial professional relationships generally lead to greater career outcomes for both parties.

How to Reach Out to Professionals

Until university, there are not that many formalized opportunities for high school students to reach out to industry professionals. This stresses the importance of reaching out via email or LinkedIn.

Here I’ll share my process to cold-contacting industry professionals.

Step 1: Creating a contact list

Gather a list of professionals in an industry that you are interested in/desire to work in. It is crucial to be intentional with who you reach out to because if you’re not interested in that person’s work, it will carry through in your body language. This could leave a bad impression on an employee even though that may have not been your intent. After all, you only have one chance to make a first impression.

As opposed to applying for a job, you will be reaching out to employees directly. One of the best resources for reaching out to people in the professional space is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is like a professional Facebook where people post their career experiences and achievements as opposed to their social life. Oftentimes, you can find employee’s emails on LinkedIn or reach out to them via the private messaging feature. It is imperative that you create a contact list in an excel file or google doc that helps you stay organized. Personally, keeping a contact list has been a lifesaver as it reminds me of who I’ve spoken to or provides a reminder for thank you emails that need to be sent (to be covered later). Generally, the following columns are utilized:

  • Professional’s Name – first and last name.
  • Email Address/LinkedIn URL.
  • Company – it helps to be more detailed and specify the department.
  • Date Contacted
  • Did you receive a response? – a simple yes or no is what you record in this column.

Now, I’m going to contradict one of my earlier statements. The more people you reach out to, the better. Chances are that you aren’t going to receive a response back from many professionals because they’re busy with their day-to-day and have other priorities. Thus, it’s helpful to reach out to several people at once so that you can maximize your chances of making a connection when you’re first getting out of the gates.

During my first year, I reached out to 200-300 professionals and I had the chance to speak with 70 of them. Based on my experience, I had to send out multiple emails to ensure I met with people in the industries I was interested in.

Step 2: Writing the email

Writing the email is a very important step because it frames the professional’s first impression of you and directly influences whether they want to speak with your or not. A general coffee chat or informational interview email should be structured like so:

  1. Introduction – introduce yourself (i.e. your background). Did you do a club in high school that ignited your passion in the stock market or your involvement in the clinical research
  2. Interest – explain why you are interested in the field and that specific researcher. Often this can be a one sentence statement about an interesting part of the field. For instance, “I find finance really interesting because of the opportunity to work with many similarly driven individuals and learn about what makes companies valuable.”
  3. The Ask – asking them for a coffee chat/informational interview. There are two ways of approaching this: 1) You can be open-ended and ask about a time that works for them or 2) You can state the dates you’re available and see if that works for them. If you opt for 2, then you should still state that you are willing to accommodate other times if the ones you suggested don’t work for the professional.

Step 3: The coffee chat/informational interview

Coffee chats are important because they are the first touchpoint you establish with the professional. First impressions are really important because it is the impression that is most unaffected by biases or prejudices, but it will inform their present and future perspective of you. To make sure that every coffee chat goes swell, you should remember and act on the following:

  • Do your research – Use LinkedIn and Twitter to get a sense of who the person is, what their job entails, what their company does, and what their interests are. By doing this research, you can jump over the more obvious questions and create a more intellectual conversation which will make you more memorable.
  • Prepare a list of questions ahead of time – it shows preparedness, and also indicates that you are committed to learning more about that person.
  • Bring a notebook and take notes – jotting down key points during the coffee chat shows that you are taking the chat as a serious opportunity to learn, and will help you remember the important pieces of the conversation that you may want to follow up on.


Time and time again, many students don’t send thank you emails. Personally, I believe this is especially important because you are receiving the benefit of a professional’s time and formally stating your appreciation. It can sometimes be perceived as rude if you don’t send a thank you email to the professional. While both parties stand to gain from a coffee chat/informational interview, collectively students benefit more from these interactions and professionals often partake to help pay it forward the next generation.

Remember networking is more of an art than a science. There is no one perfect way to go about it, but you can ensure a better networking experience through preparation. It’s important to find what works for you and the only way you’ll figure that out is by trying. Networking for me has provided a series of rich opportunities to speak with interesting individuals across industries. I wish you the best of luck with your professional endeavors and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

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