We all know that networking takes a lot of time and energy, and can feel intimidating and overwhelming. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to a place in which I feel comfortable walking into a room of 200 people that I don’t know just to repeat my two-minute pitch continuously, hoping that it makes an impression on someone. Fortunately for me, my dirt road recruiting path did not require any such events. Networking for the dirt road is a far more personal experience, because it involves informal one-on-one meetings and is a direct result of your effort to seek out opportunities. I knew that my recruiting path would be more non-traditional and informal, but I didn’t know exactly how to navigate the process or what steps to take to start building my network. Through help from Sloan classmates, MIT peers in clubs and on conference leadership teams and Sloan alumni, I was able to successfully build that dirt road network and I want to share what I’ve learned about the process.
Target Industry and Initial Outreach
Most of the folks with whom I traveled on the dirt road path had their target industry, or two, in mind. This is a helpful and necessary step to make the process feel less overwhelming, since it can otherwise feel like a world of endless possibilities. If you do not have your target industries, spend time identifying them. Then, start reaching out to people working in that industry. This will likely be a combination of cold outreach (i.e. folks with whom you have no connection), lukewarm outreach (i.e. Sloan alumni with whom you are not directly connected but share the Sloan connection), and warm introductions (i.e. folks that you are being personally introduced to by someone you already know); each of these methods is important. Be willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to email Sloan alumni, even if it feels awkward. Take your classmate up on their offer to connect you with a member of their old team. This informal networking can feel awkward or burdensome, but your openness to making connections in different ways is the most effective way to create a wide network that will best serve your personal interests in the short and long term.
Prepare for the Formal, but Embrace the Informal
When it comes to your actual meetings, approach them as informational interviews that are purely for your own learning, rather than opportunities to ask for a job. Your preparation should be similar to that for a formal interview (practice your pitch, have some anecdotes ready for behavioral questions in case you receive them, read up on industry trends), but your approach to the actual meeting should be focused on learning as much as you can from the other person. Conduct thorough research on their background and company and come in with several questions, as you will likely drive most of the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on your networking approach (i.e. is there anyone that you know that I might benefit from speaking with?) and career path (i.e. what steps would you take if you were in my shoes?). Demonstrating an interest in the other person as well as seeking their advice will build a personal connection in a way that reaching out about specific internships never would. The network that you build during your dirt road recruiting is not simply to secure a job; these are connections in your desired industry that you want to lead to long term contacts and even friendships.
It quickly becomes apparent that after your initial set of meetings, your networking process can take off. I have found that folks are almost always willing to connect me to another person working in the industry, so the more one-on-one meetings that you have, the easier the networking process becomes. Given that the initial contact should be focused on information gathering and making personal connections, it is important to continue to follow-up down the road. Dirt road recruiting centers on roles and industries that don’t know their staffing needs very far in advance. I often connected with someone in the Fall who told me to follow up with them in the March-April time frame on potential internship opportunities. You cannot expect that person to reach out to you down the line when an opportunity does crop up, so be sure to set check-in deadlines for yourself over the course of the Spring semester to ensure that you don’t miss out. You already did much of the work in connecting with them early, so it will feel more comfortable and natural on both sides when you reach out later to see if they have any opportunities.
Don’t Panic about Timing
The dirt road recruiting path typically takes longer than the more traditional or formal recruiting paths, and that is okay. This message may be easier to accept during the Fall semester, when you and your fellow classmates are all recruiting together and can commiserate. One shift to be aware of is when you return from IAP, a good chunk of your friends and classmates will have accepted offers for summer internships, and will be excited and want to share that news. Because of this, for dirt road recruiting, the first couple of weeks of the Spring semester can be anxiety-ridden. Suddenly, it seems that everyone has their summer internship squared away while you are traveling along the dirt road alone, with no end in sight. However, you are not the only one on that road; you and all the other travelers on that road are just keeping quiet, so you don’t all realize you are traveling together. Do not panic if you return from IAP without an internship secured. The internships that did get filled during IAP were likely not even the jobs that you are targeting. Set your expectations now that it is going to feel overwhelming at times when you are still waiting to know your internship plans, while others already have theirs. Focus on your networking process, be on the lookout for opportunities from your companies of interest, check in with your contacts and keep making new ones. Stay focused on what you want, and you will find an internship.
If you’d like to connect, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erica Nangeroni is a 2nd year MBA and a Core Fellow; she spent her summer internship at Silverpeak Partners.