Networking as an HNC Student

Networking as an HNC Student

Aside from keeping up with my academics, I would say without a doubt that my second-largest focus at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center has been building my professional network. Now, this is more important for me than ever since I’m a second-year MAIS student. I believe putting effort into building your network while you’re still a student is the best investment you can make in yourself for the long-term. Many of my tips you might have heard before, but I have personal, proven (anecdotal) success.

As you begin your journey at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, here are my tips for successfully building your network:

1. Reach out to HNC and Johns Hopkins SAIS alumni! I have had a great response rate from alumni, and most are extremely willing to hop on a call. Make sure you’re connected to Global Career Services and the various Career Services counselors on LinkedIn so you have a few mutual connections with people, which provides context for a connection request. 

2. Calls are most often “informational interviews” and should be used as opportunities to ask people about: their industry, their day-to-day and responsibilities in their role, their career progression, advice for breaking into the industry, what the recruiting process or schedule looks like, leveraging your Johns Hopkins SAIS experience to employers, or brainstorming opportunities based on your background and interests. Most importantly, networking calls allow you plenty of practice to learn how to “tell your story” succinctly and clearly. For a networking opportunity, a 30-minute phone call, zoom meeting, or even in-person coffee is standard.

3. Take notes during your networking calls. Write down what they ask you, write down what you say, write down their suggestions or next steps, write down names of people they mention they want to connect you with. Reviewing your calls or previous questions you have been asked is a great way to prepare for your next call.

4. Also, take notes in preparation for your networking calls. I am not the type of person who likes reading from a script, but for others it makes them feel more comfortable. I like to write down bullet points of things I want to say when I “tell them about myself” or questions I want to make sure I ask at the end of the call. Make sure you go into a call knowing what you want to get out of it.

5. At the end of a networking call, ask the person if they can connect you to anyone else who might have similar interests or experience in your target industry or role. If every person you connect with connects you to two more people, all of a sudden you have a vast spider-web of a network.

6. To keep track of networking, I have sometimes used the platform Jackfruit. (I believe it was partially started by an alumna from my undergrad, Hunter College!) If you start using Jackfruit from the very beginning of your job hunt, it is a great organization tool. Much better than an excel sheet.

7. Don’t be afraid to “bother” people when scheduling a call. As a matter of fact, people have often asked me to bother them or email them a couple of times if they don’t respond. People are busy, but that doesn’t mean they are not willing to help.

8. Optimize and utilize your LinkedIn profile and presence. I have spent hours perfecting my profile, narrowing down my experiences, highlighting my accomplishments, and adding my skills to my profile. I even added a secondary profile in Chinese and translated every single component of my page. All that hard work paid off and attracted interest in my profile from Johns Hopkins SAIS alumni and companies I was interested in.

9. Take advantage of Career Services in DC and Bologna. I have hopped on multiple calls with the DC advisor who specializes in my interest area and also took advantage of a Career Trek to NYC while I was still based in the US.

The author and fellow SAIS'ers visiting an investment bank during the SAIS NYC Career Trek 

10. If you don’t or didn’t have a summer internship, it’s okay! Sometimes it’s hard for HNC students to have a summer internship because of our academic calendar. I spent my summer doing research for my thesis and highlighted that on my resume as an experience.

11. Keep in touch with your contacts. It’s great to check in every 3-6 months with your professional connections. It may seem awkward, but it’s great to reach out to update people that you’re starting grad school, progressing along in your program, in your last year or last semester, interested in opportunities, or if you connected with someone they put you in touch with, you followed their advice, an interview went well, or to ask for advice. It’s great to be memorable and to keep your name in people’s minds and inboxes. Also, at the end of a networking call, ask someone if you can keep in touch or for the best way to keep in touch.

12. During my first year, I spoke with people in many different industries and roles to get an idea of what their work looked like. It helped me narrow down my interests to focus my job search on a couple of different areas. During my second year, I’m talking to people in my target industry and narrowing down specific roles and opportunities I am interested in, in addition to asking for advice during the application and interview process.

13. If you’ve scheduled a call, remember to be professional, even if you’re on a video call. Make sure your headphones are working and connected to your device before the call starts. This may be oddly specific, but it’s a pet-peeve of mine. Nothing sounds more unprofessional than, “Sorry, can you repeat that, I was connecting my AirPods.” For example, I make sure to play music to my AirPods from my phone before a phone call. A song that pumps you up is a fun way to prep and calm your nerves in the last couple of minutes before your call.

14. Not every call is going to be a success, and you are not going to hit it off with everyone. You may not get what you want out of every call. In the words of my parents, “you can’t win them all.” Don’t let one bad call knock you down and make sure to use any negative feedback or experience to shape and improve your networking moving forward. Also, after hearing more about someone’s role, if you find out that you’re not as interested in it as you initially thought you might be, finding out what you don’t want to do is just as important as finding out what you do want to do.

As with most things, the more you do something, the better you get at it. I learned these tips over a year and a half, put them into practice, and got more comfortable with building my network over time. Hopefully you find these tips to be helpful!

Written by Nancy Brancati 贝念慈 MAIS Class of 2023