Welcome to Refinery29’s new career column Advice From A Nice Girl. Each month, readers will be asking Fran Hauser, bonafide boss and author of the book The Myth Of The Nice Girl, their hardest career quandaries, from managing your overly emotional boss to overcoming your biggest work fear.
This month, we're hearing from college students and recent grads who have questions about how to navigate internships and make connections when they're starting at the bottom. We wanted to share their questions and Fran's advice before summer — and summer internship season —gets into full swing, so these two will be reporting back in June about how they're faring. Stay tuned!
Question: How do I make a good first impression on my first day of my summer internship? I tend to be shy and quiet (lots of "yeses") when I first meet supervisors, but how can I be bolder without crossing any lines? —Margaret, 21, rising senior at Villanova
Answer: One of the worst, most antiquated pieces of career advice I ever received was to keep your head down and just do a good job. You’re already leaps ahead because you realize that making an impression and earning recognition is a major part of career success. The challenge for any young employee or intern is to do so in a respectful, but powerful way. First, focus on your body language. Studies have shown that effective communication is only 7% verbal and 93% nonverbal (with the non-verbal being 55% body language and 38% tone of voice). On the first day of your internship, stand up straight and make eye contact when you meet your new supervisor. Presence is extremely important to flourish in the workplace. Some other tips:
Don’t speak too softly — women have trained themselves to not stand out from the crowd. Don’t shout, but speak in a confident tone.
Your voice needs air to work — remember to breathe!
Take up space. Men do this unconsciously, claiming power as they recline in a chair at a conference table. Don’t fold yourself up in the chair, own it.
Also, you’re not alone in feeling like a “yes woman.” Often I hear women say they’re stuck in a speaking-up bind: “If I keep quiet, my boss thinks I have nothing to add, but if I speak up too often, my coworkers think I’m a know-it-all.” To find your voice, first, do your homework so you’re prepared for day one. Google the company the day before so you're up to speed on any major news developments and make sure you have an understanding of the company's goals. Then, come up with some stock phrases to help you start or jump into a conversation. Here are some of my favorites:
“I did some informal research and discovered…”
“That reminds me of…”
“Following on that, I wonder if we…”
Remember, there is a reason they chose YOU out of the hundreds of college students that applied. Don’t miss an opportunity to go up and say “Hi” to someone who is senior to you. Don’t worry about having the perfect one-liner or business insight. Simply introduce yourself and let them know how happy you are to be there and even one thing you hope to learn or are most looking forward to this summer. Emotional connections often lead to the best impressions.
Follow-Up: As I’ve met my supervisors, co-workers, and other office mates, I have tried to implement your advice. I’ve stood up for every handshake, and introduced myself confidently — taking up space and using my voice! I have also tried to seize all of those opportunities to introduce myself to anyone who is superior to me, by introducing myself and my position. Each time, the person is excited and happy to meet a new face in this office. This gave me the confidence to keep going, and keep putting myself out there. In terms of being a “yes woman”, all of my “yesses” so far have been positive and meaningful — saying yes to new projects, meetings, and even experimenting with new skills.
Question: How do I start to network and break into an industry I have zero contacts into? I want to launch into working at the Hill, but I don't know where to start! — Emma, 22, Vermont
Answer: You’re right that building relationships is crucial to get to an open door when you’re trying to enter a new field or make a career change. First, look beyond your inner circle. You may think you have zero contacts, but think through your parents’ friends, people you’ve babysat for, community service you’ve done — you may be surprised by who knows who, even locally in the your state’s legislature.
Then broaden your reach: Scour social networking sites like LinkedIn for mutual connections. Don’t be afraid to ask for an intro to these people. Researchers say that women in general have a less goal-oriented approach to networking and focus on finding common ground and socializing. Men will state what they want. Strike the balance between these two. Send a personal message and find a common ground, but don’t forget to ask for what you need. Make it simple for the person: Offer to prepare a forwardable email explaining what you’re hoping to get out of the introduction. (A phone date? Leads on any job openings? Info on how that person got their job?)
If you go to a networking event, show up — don’t stand in the corner and nurse your drink. Make it a point to introduce yourself to five new people and express your goal (to get a job on the Hill). You might be surprised to see how many public networking events are on sites like Eventbrite. Twitter is another amazing way to “cold meet someone;” I’ve heard plenty of stories of young college students retweeting, commenting, and engaging with someone to catch their attention; or DM’ing someone they admire or who has their dream career and forging a connection by asking questions about their path. Flattery will get you everywhere.
Follow-Up: Thank you for the actionable advice! Per your input, I have reached out to 10 contacts on LinkedIn and asked each one if they would be open to having a phone conversation or coffee. Three responded and said yes! I am really excited. Do you have any advice on how I can turn these networking conversations from a one-time interaction into a potential mentor? Should I do anything special in my follow up? Thank you!
Fran's Advice: These relationships usually evolve organically. If you would like for this person to be in your professional life, stay engaged with him or her. Send links to articles or events that you think they may find interesting. Also, are there ways that you can be helpful to them? You can ask them directly in your first meeting. A young woman reached out to me on LinkedIn to ask if I would be open to having a coffee with her. She also offered to give some social media advice for two of my portfolio companies (she had taken the time to review my portfolio and noticed that these companies could use some social media help). I took the meeting with her because she didn't just ask to "pick my brain" — she was thoughtful and offered a way that she can be helpful to me.