The 9 Networking Secrets Every 20-Something Should Know

Photographed by Phoebe Chuason.
Fact number one: You know you need to “network” to get ahead, the same way you know you need to “think outside the box.” Fact number two: Without examples, these corporate jargon phrases don’t mean anything. That’s why we asked professionals to be honest about the nitty-gritty of how they networked. And what we found out is something we always suspected: Networking is nothing more than developing and cultivating a relationship with a person you genuinely like and admire. Ahead, we've rounded up nine examples of networking done right — try one of these strategies with your own circle and see what happens.

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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Sometimes a perfect connection on paper — went to your school, in the same industry — just doesn’t work in real life. A good networker lets that contact go in favor of prioritizing another. Some people just don’t click with each other, and that’s fine. If someone never returns your email, they’re probably too swamped to pick up another mentee.

Liz, 30, wishes she’d learned that in the early stages of her career. “I had an internship supervisor I loved. She and I had a great relationship when I was in the office, but after I left, she never responded to my emails. I would send emails at least twice a month! I wish I’d used that time to cultivate other contacts.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Sure, it’s impressive to get a coffee invite with someone high-up at the office, but it’s equally as valuable to get to know interns and assistants.

“I’m so glad I always took time to get to know interns at the office. Some of them have gone on to amazing things, and now keep me in the loop about job opportunities,” says Ramon, 32, an arts administrator. The lesson: Don’t discriminate based on job title, and get to know the people whose passion and drive you admire.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
“I hate when someone offers to buy me coffee!” shares Michelle, 39, an executive editor. “I know it’s coming from a good place, but I can buy my own coffee. For me, a coffee date with someone I don’t know is a huge time suck. I’m much more likely to be able to offer advice if it’s less time intensive, like answering a question over email or having a 10-minute phone call.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Yes, it’s intimidating. No, you shouldn’t barge into their office. But if, say, your company has a happy hour or team building event and the CEO isn’t busy, go up, introduce yourself, and explain how much you like your role.

“When I was an intern, I did this with the editor-in-chief when I ran into her in the elevator,” says Sara, 30, a senior editor. “She gave me a project a week later and said she liked my confidence.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
In the age of LinkedIn, where you can be “connected” to just about anyone without meeting IRL, it’s easy to think that a solid network is about quantity over quality. That’s far from the truth. Andrew Sobel, author of Power Relationships, suggests you tier your contacts. Write down everyone who has truly influenced your career — these are the contacts you should be updating about your life and career a few times a year. The next 50-100 fall in your secondary tier — contacts who you might have helped, or who could be helpful, and who you should update less frequently than your first tier contacts.

“I follow-up with a few key contacts every time I have an exciting update — whether I'm sending a link to a story I wrote, or when I get a promotion at work — or whenever I hear exciting news about that contact,” says Lindsey, 35, an editor. “I also really like to hear from my contacts, not in a pushy way, but it’s nice to get a ‘this is what I’m up to now’ email from time to time.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
When you follow-up with those first tier contacts, make sure you're not hitting them up because you need a favor.

“I hate when I only hear from people when they’re looking for something from me,” says Elizabeth, 32, a lawyer and a member of the young alumni committee at her alma mater. “What I like is when people actually take the time to know what’s going on in my world. I love when they ask about something I brought up at coffee, like my family. It shows they’re invested in the relationship, not only in what I can do for them.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Offering a compliment is a great way to show why you want this specific person’s advice. Do some research prior to a meeting — if it comes up on the first three pages of a Google search, and it’s about their professional steps, it’s not stalking.

“Prior to a coffee meeting, I searched the person I was meeting with and read the last few months of her blog. I feel like we clicked because I could ask specific questions about her work, not just ask about how I could get ahead,” says Jenny, 32, a PR manager.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
The best time to score new contacts is when you’re already satisfied in your current gig. Make a point to head to happy hours, contact an alumnus you admire, or make yourself known to the higher-ups.

“I make a point to go to meet-ups all the time,” says social media manager Erin, 28. “One upside is I’ve become someone known in my office for always having a candidate in mind for job opportunities. Not only that, but I hear about opportunities as well, and feel much more secure in my own job knowing there are other places I could go.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Don’t expect your potential mentor to give you the steps needed to score your dream gig. Come prepared with a list of questions you feel she’s equipped to answer. "I have found that instead of asking someone directly to help you find your next job, a better approach is to ask that person for advice on how to get there. Successful people love giving advice. It's an easy way to indirectly put yourself on their mind,” says Kerri 25, a finance director.