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Best practices for presenting yourself and networking

Networking is a critical for any professional. Whether you are looking for a new role in your field, trying to switch careers or expanding your personal and professional network, being prepared and presenting yourself in the best light will enable you to make a great impression on anyone you come into contact with. By nailing the details and being clear in your approach, networking can be a deeply impactful aspect of a professional aspect.

Here are a few best practices:

Preparation and Research

Here are some questions and tips to ask yourself as your start your exploration. Note – it is okay to not have fully-formed answers to these questions, but these are meant as guide as you begin to explore:

  • Understand your own motivations and interests: Why is now the right time for you to be making a change? What experiences have led you to where you are now?
  • Explore the type of roles/functions/organizations you are interested in: Are you looking for a similar role to one you’ve previously had? Are you looking to switch industries or functions? In either case, it is helpful to do some research on the type of role, organization, or industry you are targeting. Here are some questions to think about:
    • Are there specific mission areas or types of organizations that resonate with you? What are the top organizations in that space?
    • What type of work culture and environment do you thrive in? Do you work best in a structured environment or are you comfortable with more ambiguity? Do you want prefer smaller organizations or larger ones?
  • Assess your strengths and areas for growth: What are your strongest skills/what do you enjoy doing the most? What are some of your greatest professional accomplishments? What are you interested in doing less of? What are some of your greatest professional learnings? Are there roles or responsibilities that would not be a good fit for you? What is some of the feedback that others have given you, and how can that guide your search?
  • If you are switching sectors, think about what skills and experiences might be transferrable. For instance, sales/business development experience in the corporate sector can be transferable to fundraising in the nonprofit sector. Don’t be afraid of asking for advice on how you can make that experience even more transferrable.
  • If you are switching sectors, highlight experience in your desired sector. For instance, if you are looking to switch to the nonprofit sector and have served on a nonprofit Board, highlight that on your resume or in your story. If you don’t have that experience, look for opportunities to volunteer and get involved in Board service.
  • Be prepared to share your “elevator pitch” so that others will be able to be quickly get a sense of what you are looking for and how they might be able to help. 

Recommended Reading and Resources for Career Exploration

Preparing for an Informational Interview

  • Research the person you will be meeting with and the organization at which they work. Preparation goes a long way in making a good impression.
  • Be prepared to share your “elevator pitch” or a short story about what you are exploring so that your interviewer can be most helpful to you. You want your interviewer to leave with a good sense of who you are and what opportunities might be a good fit for you.
  • If you are interested in working at the organization or in the industry that your interviewer works at, what have you done to show that you care about or have a connection to the mission?
  • Prepare a few questions – what do you want to learn about this industry or function?
  • Ask your interviewer for advice and be open to feedback.
  • Send your resume to your interviewer in advance. This will help them get a sense of your background and experience. You can also ask them for advice/feedback on your resume.
  • You can offer to meet your interviewer in person, but don’t insist on lunch. Offer to stop by their office and offer phone/video, which may be easier.
  • You can ask your interviewer for advice on who else to connect with, but some people may not want to make introductions to others.

The Informational Interview

  • Be on time and be mindful of time – if you are scheduled for 30 minutes, do your best to keep to that time.
  • Help your interviewer help you – help them understand who you are and what you’re looking for.
  • Ask your interviewer if you can connect via LinkedIn. Some people prefer not to connect with someone they have not met or interacted with; don’t take it personally.
  • Send an email thank you note after the interview. A handwritten note is fine too, but not required.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow up.

Materials – Resumes, Cover Letters, LinkedIn

  • Integrate your story and accomplishments into your materials
  • Include your results and accomplishments, not just your responsibilities.
  • Make your materials visually accessible (use bullets, formatting, etc.) and PDF your materials.
  • Write it so if someone wants to forward it, someone, they can without having to reformulate anything. 
  • For sector-switchers – describe the institutions you’ve been involved with. In civic leadership – tell us how big the org is, what they do, mission, etc. sentence or 2 about each company. 
  • Make sure your LinkedIn is up to date. 
  • Google yourself and make sure there is an appropriate picture.

Final Note

  • Respond to recruiters – offer suggestions. Even if you are not interested in the role they contacted you about, it still helps put you on their radar and can help develop a relationship.