The fourth day of Marketing Week featured Kristina Cisnero, an alumni of BCIT and a previous President of the BCITMA. Kristina is currently the Online Strategist at Hootsuite, a company which helps businesses manage their social media channels.
Given that her job is all about connecting with people and companies, Kristina is an expert at networking and reaching out to new people. Geoffrey Bird – a marketing instructor at BCIT – once coined her as the ‘Queen of Networking’; Kristina herself disagrees with this title, stating that she actually dislikes networking.
Your professional network is key to your future career success. In fact, one of the main lessons we push at the BCITMA is the importance of networking and relationships; this is why we work to provide students with opportunities to connect with industry professionals, because it is these relationships which will enhance your career later on.
Nonetheless, the premise behind networking – connecting with strangers and expanding your professional relationships – can be daunting to many people. In practice networking often takes the form of awkward conversations and can be very difficult to do effectively. This is where the Queen of Networking came in; Kristina provided many useful tips on how to network properly.
What is Networking?
Networking is about creating a support system. By forming relationships with others, everyone will be able share contacts, services and other valuable information. Always keep in mind that an effective network requires reciprocity: if you help other people, they will also help you.
While networking is often used in the context of a career, there are many other reasons why you would want to connect with new people. These reasons include:
- Create meaningful relationships
- Develop career
- Explore new careers, get a job
- Gain more knowledge
- Increase reach of projects, work, voice
- To close sales deals
Just as it is important to understand what networking is, it is also important to know what it is not. Kristina provides clarification of what networking is by explaining some of the common misconceptions.
Networking will get you a job right now
Relationships are definitely an important part of job-searching; many employers do not advertise job openings and rely on connections and referrals to find the people they need. Nonetheless, networking will not automatically land you a job – you still have to fit into the organization. What networking can do is make it easier for you to get an interview with a potential employer; however what comes afterwards will depend on your individual personality and abilities.
Networking is about the number of people you know
Many people gauge the success of their networking by how many people they have talked to or how many business cards they have handed out. In reality networking is about creating meaningful relationships; a few strong connections with people who will remember you are much better than many connections with people who will not.
Networking has to be done face-to-face
When people think of networking, they tend to think of face-to-face meetings: small talk, awkward conversations and the occasional silence. However the rise of social media channels such as LinkedIn means that you can now network online; it is quite possible to have a valuable connection with people without actually meeting them in person.
Its only worth networking with the people who give you a job
Networking is generally used in the context of job-searching, which has led to the assumption that you should only network with potential employers – and not anyone else. In fact networking is valuable for the relationships you form; not every connection you make will lead you to a job, but they can all provide you with valuable support, advice and referrals that you cannot get elsewhere.
Successful networking begins long before you actually meet someone. Kristina recommends creating a 30-second elevator pitch that tells potential contacts who you are and why they should care. Your pitch should contain the following parts:
- Begin with action phrase that is not a noun. (I am X, but not a label)
- Add a one sentence statement about what you do (I do X)
- Give a statement of specific impact (People who use my process find Z)
- Make your request (I want to be introduced to X)
Create a Twitter and LinkedIn Profile
Your paper resume is no longer the only place that employers can look to for information about you. Social media is increasingly becoming the new resume, and it is much more difficult to control then a 2-page prepared document. Set yourself up for success by preparing your social media profiles as if your employer will read them – because they definitely will.
- Use name as Twitter handle
- Set up profile picture and cover photo
- Professional looking selfie
- Relevant but personable cover photo
- Summary that describes what you do, link to what you want people to go to
- Include a summary of who you are, passionate about, what your skills and experience are
- Fill out work, volunteer experience, education
- Have professional photo
- Share articles and follow thought leaders
- Start building LinkIn connections – includes reaching out to people you do not know
Your LinkedIn presence can have a significant impact on your professional brand and how employers perceive you. Take the time to craft a summary which makes people want to connect with you; beyond skills and qualifications, recruiters often make hiring decisions based on culture and how well you will fit within a company. The groups and influencers that you follow can also give people a sense of who you are.
Do your Research
Whether you are about to reach out to a new contact, attend a networking event or go to a job interview, proper preparation will always set you apart from others. Here is some important information that should be researched beforehand:
- Learn about who the attendees will be at an event
- Learn about who you’re going out for coffee with – review LinkedIn and Twitter
- Research career site – know the job description
- Know what questions to ask and not ask
Start Forming Relationships
As a student, there are many possible approaches to networking. Here are some ways that you can begin forming new connections today.
Volunteering can be a valuable source of both experience and new connections. Join student clubs such as the BCITMA to be involved with people who are who just like you; professional associations such as the BCAMA, Vancouver Board of Trade and NABS West can provide you with connections within the industries you are interested in. Volunteering with community events can also show that you are actively involved and care about the people around you.
You may hate them right now, but the team projects you do at BCIT are in itself a form of networking. The people in your team are all entering the same industry as you and can one day become a boss, co-worker or business partner; be nice to everyone and do not burn bridges. As Kristina explains, the industry is small and employers may end up asking your classmates for information on you. She has personally turned down job applications from previous classmates because they performed poorly during BCIT group work.
LinkedIn can be a valuable source of professional connections, but only if it is used properly. When connecting to people, be sure to include a personal message; the simple fact that very few people actually take the time write a personalized message will set yourself apart from others.
LinkedIn is unique among social media channels in that it is quite normal to reach out to people you do not know. Do not be afraid contact strangers on LinkedIn or accept connection requests from people you do not know. Joining in a LinkedIn group is also great for networking, as it allows you to connect with people who have similar interests are involved in industries you are interested in.
Kristina is personally an advocate of calling LinkedIn connections out for coffee. She recommends taking advantage of your time as a student to bring people out for coffee and talk to them; once you enter the workforce, you become a competitor and it will become much harder to get information from others. Keep the following points in mind when asking people out for coffee:
- Research the person you’re connecting with
- Prepare good questions
- Be prepared to pay for coffee
A Twitterchat is a live Twitter event focused around a general topic. Kristina advises choosing the topics that are relevant to you and participating in them; they are a great way to grow your knowledge and Twitter following. It also allows you to connect with people who are far away and you cannot meet in person.
Meeting people in-person is the most intimidating way to network, but can also be the most fun. Attend networking events such as the BCITMA Mingler and the BCAMA Marketer of the Year Gala to connect directly with people on a personal level.
Prepare yourself before a networking event by researching the attendees and preparing a list of potential people to talk to. On the day of the event, dress appropriately and do not just stick to your friends! Kristina has noticed that many people stay in groups with their friends, separate to talk to new people and then return back to their group. Networking is something which must be done on your own: it means leaving the comfort zone of your friends to form one-on-one connections with new people.
In-person networking in-person is difficult and it is okay to feel awkward or embarrassed. Kristina confides that she has still not reached the point where she is truly comfortable talking to strangers. The most difficult part is getting started; as you attend more events and are seen by more people, it will become easier to start conversations with others.
Networking is probably one of the most important and most difficult things you will have to do in your professional career. Your professional network will provide valuable support, information and referrals; having the right connections is often what separates you from other job applicants.
Thank you very much to Kristina Cisnero for taking time out of her work at Hootsuite to speak to us. Networking is a daunting challenge for many people, and we are grateful for all the tips and insights she shared on how we can start building our professional network today. You can reach her at the following addresses:
- Twitter handle: @K_Cisnero
- E-mail: Kristina.firstname.lastname@example.org
Another thank you goes to Nikki Nguyen, VP of Professional Development for organizing Marketing Week and bringing in Kristina as our speaker. She worked overtime to arrange this event and bring it all together; we are grateful for everything that she has done.
This is not the last event you will see from Nikki: she is also organizing a Regional Conference in January which will feature another panel of speakers. There will also be even more chances to network, so be sure to connect with us on on our Facebook Page to get all the updates!
In the meantime, stay tuned to the BCITMA website for an exclusive interview of Nikki’s experiences organizing Marketing Week. If you were wondering how Marketing Week actually works behind the scenes (how did she get all those speakers to come?), then be sure check out the upcoming interview for all the details.
This event would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors. You can read more about them here.