Networking: Making Career Connections

You are here

Meeting new people, getting to know them, and learning from people you already know is part of what you do every day. In the professional world, this is called networking. And it's not done solely when you're looking for a job, but is something you should always do as an effective way to learn about career options and gather advice for achieving your goals. Networking is a great way to ensure that you experience at least two career-related experiences before your senior year.

Myths and Facts

Myth: “Networking means approaching people you don’t know.”
False. Networking simply means building relationships, either meeting new people or learning from people you already know. Networking is also about being purposeful in your interactions with others, particularly when career conversations arise. Think about the networks you already have: colleagues and supervisors from past jobs, volunteer work and extracurricular activities; high school and college friends and faculty; your family. Keep in touch with these people and talk with them about your career plans or interests. Ask them to recommend other possible career contacts for you.

Myth: "I should start networking when I’m ready to look for a job."
False. Networking is an ongoing process of relationship-building that may result in a variety of opportunities for you, including a job. But it’s also an effective way to learn about career options and gather advice. Meeting just one new contact a semester while at Cornell brings you eight established contacts upon graduation. Alumni are great contacts who love to talk with students about careers and they’re easy to connect with through LinkedIn.

Myth: “I don’t know how to network. It sounds like a lot of work. Networking doesn’t sound very genuine. It seems so contrived.”
How many friends do you have on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? These people are part of your network. Sharing your news, commenting on your friend’s photo, asking for advice on the best salon or place to live? These are all ways that we rely on personal connections to determine the best option. Career networking is not much different than social networking.

Expanding Your Network

Networking can happen in the most everyday situations. There are many ways to effectively work your networks that could lead to a job posting or contact.

  • When someone asks about your summer plans,  talk about a class you love or an interest you’d like to pursue.  “I’m really loving my art history class this semester and I’d like to see what it’s like to work in a museum or gallery.”Maximize your opportunities through simple, yet thoughtful, interactions with others.
  • Reach out to everyone you know and tell them that you are interested in exploring career options or are looking for an internship or job.
  • Introduce yourself to new contacts and ask if they have time to talk with you about their career path. Be prepared to introduce yourself and your skills. To learn more, click here
  • Take advantage of the many opportunities that exist for meeting alumni, whether through on-campus speeches or externships. Don’t call alumni out of the blue and ask for a job, but instead ask for career advice or offer to volunteer or job shadow. Talk with a career advisor about your approach before contacting alumni.
  • Ask your contacts for other contacts in your area of interest.
  • Follow up. Follow their advice. Send a thank you letter. Keep in touch.

Your Self-Introduction

Since networking can happen at any time, it’s important to be prepared with an introduction that succinctly describes your interests, goals and skills.

To create a dynamic self-introduction: 

  • Consider your goals. Do you want to learn more about a specific job (e.g., government speech writing), industry (e.g., career options in hospitality), or how to apply a skill set (e.g., foreign language skills)?
  • Be ready to talk about your most relevant information such as a recent externship or job in the field; why a course or newspaper article sparked your interest; transferable skills developed through a student club.
  • Combine these into a two to three sentence introduction or “elevator speech,”  imagining you are stuck in an elevator with someone and you need to make an impression before they get off.
  • For example: “Hi, I’m Samantha Peters, a current sophomore at Cornell University. I am interested in health and would like to learn more about careers in public health. I would love to talk with you about your career path. Is there a time in the next few weeks when you would available to talk on the phone?”
  • Plan and practice your self-introduction, then practice talking with friends about yourself and your career interests. Ask them about their career interests and related experiences. Move on to practice conversations with strangers about various topics and remember that everyone is nervous in a networking situation. 

To make the most effective use of your time at an event, prepare in advance to be sure you connect with the people who might be most helpful to you. Take time to think about your goals for the event, what information you’d like to gain, who you hope to talk with, specific questions to ask and what you hope people learn about you. Some basic tips include:

  • Know the topic or theme of the event and ask if there is an expected attendee list.
  • Keep your business cards in your left pocket so you can reach for them as you shake hands and then collect other’s cards in your right pocket. See a career advisor for advice on creating a business card.
  • Leave your right hand available for handshakes. 
  • Carry a beverage only. Mingle a bit and then get a bit of food and eat with others who are eating. The focus is on networking, not the food.
  • Pay attention to your body language. You want to appear relaxed, confident and interested in talking with others. Concentrate on attentive listening; it’s not all about you and your questions.
  • Take the initiative to approach people standing alone and strike up a conversation. 
  • Enter a conversation by walking up, smiling, listening for a minute, waiting for a pause and then introducing yourself.
  • Invite others into your conversation. If you see someone trying to enter your conversation, welcome them and take initiative to introduce others. Identify a common thread you share with them.
  • Spend no more than 4-7 minutes in the conversation, then move on. Say, “Thank you. It was a pleasure meeting you. May I contact you in the future and if so, what is the best way to do so?” Don’t be surprised if someone in a high-level position doesn’t want to give out their business card in the first meeting.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “Excuse me, I see someone else I would like to talk to.”
  • Focus on introductions and relationships, not selling.
  • When in doubt, ask questions about the other person. People appreciate a good listener.
  • Have something to discuss. Read a newspaper before the event.
  • Dress appropriately. Despite what you may see and hear from friends, employers and alumni do expect a certain level of professional dress at a career fair or other networking event.
  • Practice your professional handshake with eye contact — not too firm, not too limp.
  • Follow up. Follow the advice you are given and report back to your contact. Develop the relationship by keeping in touch over time.
  • Ask for referrals. Ask each person you meet if there is anyone else they think you should contact.
  • If the event includes a meal, practice proper dining etiquette and try to mingle a bit before and after the meal. Talk with several people at the table.

Informational Interviews & Sessions

Informational interviews are a great way to learn about a career field and gain career advice, but they are not opportunities to ask for a job. Talk with a career advisor about your approach before contacting alumni. Some tips for successful informational interviews:

  • Contact the person and express an interest in learning more about his/her career. Introduce yourself as a Cornell student and briefly describe your background and interests. Ask if you can arrange a time to meet over coffee or on the phone.
  • Research the person and the organization through the internet, as well as any common contacts.
  • Think about what information you hope to gain from the meeting (other than a job lead). Prepare a list of questions.
  • Be prepared with your self-introduction.
  • Add an objective to the resume you plan to circulate among your contacts.
  • Ask for advice.
  • Ask if they know anyone else you can contact to learn more.
  • Follow up. Follow their advice. Send a thank you letter. Keep in touch.

Some tips for information sessions or presentations:

  • Research the employer before the event.
  • Arrive on time. Sit up front. Ask pertinent questions. 
  • Talk with the employer after the session, asking questions based on genuine interest and prior research and thanking them for their time.
  • Make a good impression, ask for contact information and follow up to build the relationship.

Networking Opportunities

While you’re a student, take advantage of opportunities like the ones below to network and meet alumni. See a career counselor for more information about ways to  connect with alumni for informational interviews.

Career Conversations

A&S Career Developmenet regularly offers opportunities for students to interact with alumni in small groups to learn about careers. These "Career Conversations" are meant to be small networking sessions and are co-sponsored by Arts & Sciences Career Development and Arts & Sciences Alumni Affairs. Register in advance on Handshake. Space is limited to 15 students per conversation. This Cornell Chronicle article covered one of our Career Conversations and gives a little background on the event series.

Even though the conversations are informal, you should still research the alum and the organization and come prepared to ask questions about the speaker's career path. You may also want to practice articulating how your interests align with his/her work and ask for advice on entering the field.

If the speaker gives you his/her business card, follow up with a thank you email mentioning a benefit you took away from the conversation.

Career Specialist Office Hours

You can sign-up for an individual career consultation with a recruiter or alumnus/a who can provide career insight and guidance, including resume and cover letter reviews. The dates and times vary throughout the semester, as do the career fields of the Career Specialists. Register for an appointment, usually about 20 minutes long, on Handshake.

A&S Career Connections Events

During winter and summer breaks, A&S alumni offer events in NYC and DC for A&S students to meet alumni and learn about careers. Winter events are aimed at students who are still exploring options and often consist of panels, information sessions or treks/tours. Summer events are aimed at students with some experience in a particular field and are typically evening networking receptions. Email invitations for these events are typically sent about one month prior to the event and registrations take place on Handshake. Read more about one of these programs here.

These events are sponsored by the Arts & Sciences Career Connections Committee, Arts & Sciences Career Development and Arts & Sciences Alumni Affairs & Development.

Munschauer Career Series

The Munschauer Career Series was endowed by the former director of the Cornell University Career Center, John Munschauer, to provide funds for A&S graduates to return to campus to benefit students' career education. This annual program allows students to learn from alumni of note about a specific occupational field, individual career paths, and the choices one makes over the course of a career. This year's Munschauer Speaker is Will Gluck '93, film director and the event will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16 in Room 120 of the Physical Sciences Building.

Past Munschauer speakers have included: Jeff Zalaznick, psychology '05, founder of Major Food Group restaurants; Natalie Bridgeman Fields, government '99, Founder and Executive Director of Accountability Counsel and Jeffrey Gettleman, philosophy ’94, East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times

Other opportunities to network with alumni include:

Alumni and Recruiter Events No-Show Policy

If you change your mind or your schedule changes after signing up for an Arts & Sciences alumni-student networking event, remove your registration from Handshake by 11:59 p.m. one (1) business day prior to the event. After that time, if you elect to cancel your registration or cannot attend, immediately notify our office either in person or by phone. Depending on the circumstances, this will result in your being considered a "late cancellation" or "no-show." If so, you will not be allowed to participate in career conversations, other A&S registration-required alumni-student career networking events or on-campus recruiting until you speak with a Career Development staff member. A second "no-show" will result in automatic forfeiture of the right to participate in all A&S alumni-student career networking events for one semester.

Using LinkedIn

Creating a LinkedIn account is one of the first things you should do to establish a professional presence on-line. LinkedIn allows you to showcase the important components of your professional life and is a very effective tool for tracking the contacts you are making. When you begin actively networking to connect with people in your field of interest, LinkedIn will enable you to identify leads very easily.

To start

  • Create a profile based on an already strong resume that’s been reviewed by Arts & Sciences Career Development and include a photo.
  • Look at other profiles for ideas. Search for alumni and students in your field of interest and see what they are doing.
  • Use the summary section wisely – this is your opportunity to share what is important to you and your skills and talents.
  • Add your current contacts. A good goal is to have 25 contacts to get started.
  • Ask for recommendations from three people who are familiar with your work (including volunteer and student leadership work).

After your profile is set up

  • Connect with everyone you know —list all of your teachers, neighbors, family friends, supervisors for work or volunteer, along with everyone you’ve met at Cornell and any off-campus jobs or activities: students, faculty, alumni, staff and invite them to connect. If you've emailed the person directly, you should connect with them on LinkedIn, but if it’s been awhile since you’ve spoken, add a short note to the invitation. For people you know through a mass distribution channel, consider whether they know who you are before connecting.
  • Use your expanded network. Some of your best contacts will be your second degree connections, so ask to be introduced. Remember that the person introducing you should be someone who knows you well enough to feel comfortable introducing you.
  • Join groups, a great way to learn about job and networking opportunities.  They can include school groups such as Cornell University Job Connection and IvyLife: The All-Ivy Business Networking Community; regional groups for those wanting to work in a particular location; professional organizations in your field of interest or companies you’re intrigued by. View the profiles of people you admire to see what groups they’ve joined.
  • Regularly scan discussions from these groups and consider having weekly or daily digests sent to your email. Contribute to the discussion if you have something to add. Post questions to learn more about careers. The Cornell groups are a great place to test the waters. Alumni love helping students and sharing advice!
  • Pay it forward - Recommend and endorse others if you truly know their skills.

Ready to job search on LinkedIn?

  • Follow companies and organizations to stay up-to-date on news, job postings and trends.
  • See where people at your dream organization have worked in the past to get ideas for additional organizations to consider.
  • See where Cornellians work. Search by location, organization, field, major and skills with a fun interactive chart. Go to Network, Your Alumni. Narrow the range of graduation dates for more specific information.
  • Networking is the greatest benefit of LinkedIn Before applying or interviewing for a job, find someone who works there now or did work there. This is where you can search your 2nd degree connections for people in your field or organization of interest and get introduced. If you can't find 1st or 2nd degree connections, reach out to alumni and ask if they would be willing to speak with you.


Remember to say thank you! This is a simple way to make a great impression. Thank each person individually for the time they took to talk with you or help you make a new connection. Let people know the outcomes of your job search and any advice they gave.