Navigating Digital Networking as a Student

Throughout our time in grad school, we have both been investing time into networking within the food industry. So far, digital networking has been an incredible resource as we continue to stay involved in the food community and start to explore potential career paths.

Some of the connections we’ve made have come from people reaching out to us on our Instagram page, but mostly we’ve been generating a lot of the opportunities ourselves. A good example of this is when we first started NonFiction Foods. We reached out to Adam Yee who had us on his “My Food Job Rocks!” podcast. From there, we connected with Nicole from FoodGrads and here we are!

We are by no means experts in the matter, but we wanted to share some of the ways we have found success. Reaching out to people at random can be daunting.

So, we thought it might be helpful to share some common strategies that have worked well for both of us thus far:

1. Leverage professional platforms

One resource we have found particularly helpful when making connections is LinkedIn. As grad students hoping to go into industry, we are both trying to figure out what type of role we want. We generally start by looking at profiles and job listings on LinkedIn to find companies of interest.

Then, we look at the employee pages and identify people in roles we want to learn more about. A few times we have been lucky and had a mutual connection that was able to introduce us, but a lot of the time we have been reaching out independently.

2. Send an email and set up a phone call.

Okay. You have found someone you really want to talk to and it’s time to send them an email. This part can be intimidating. In our experience, 99.9% of people in the food industry are happy and willing to talk to you about their jobs.

That being said, we have learned that people are more likely to respond if you ask for an informational interview—a conversation where you can learn more about their position and company.

But how do you find someone’s email in the first place? If you’re lucky, someone might have it on their LinkedIn or company website. Most of the time, however, it’s not that easy. We’ve both tried this trick Meg learned from her time in Sales: Go on the company website and find the generic email address (@example.com). BCC different combinations of the person’s first and last name until one of the emails goes through. If they respond and are open to a phone call, there are a couple of things we do to prepare.

3. Prepare for the call.

Fantastic. The interview is on the schedule. Now what? It’s time to prepare for the conversation. The first thing we always do is some research on the person and the company at which they work. Next, we will write a list of open-ended questions that require more than a “Yes/No” answer. But most importantly, we try and prepare questions that we want to know the answers to! In our opinion, this is the best time to really get the inside scoop on what it is you’ve been eager to know more about.

One last tip: We have been told by a few experts that you should never go into one of these calls asking for a job. If you’re actively looking for a job, that’s fine. Just try not to mention it right away as it can turn people off—that’s what companies have recruiters and job postings for.

4. Have the conversation.

Ring. Ring. Hello? It’s time! During the call, we both agree that it is important to be conscious of the other person’s time and carefully consider the type of questions we choose to ask. One thing that we find helpful is taking notes. Having something to jot down a few notes on is always a great reference for after the call. That being said, we have noticed that notes can sometimes become a distraction. So, if you find yourself becoming less engaged in the conversation, this might not be the best tactic for you!

As the chat nears its end, we like to ask for recommendations on next steps. We feel that doing this shows our interest and gives us tangible actions to work towards. Here are some of the action questions that we always like to ask: “Is there anyone else you can think of that I should get in touch with to learn more?” or “Are there any newsletters/books/certifications that you might recommend for someone like me?”

5. Follow through.

Phewww. It’s over. Well, not exactly. The first thing that we always do following a conversation is write a thank you. We find it best to do this as soon as possible because it’s easier to remember key points in the conversation.

Also, if another person played a key role in the connection, we like to thank them as well! Often times these “intermediate” connectors never hear if the conversation happened and/or how it went. Sending them a quick email or thank you card is a great way to show your appreciation for helping you make the connection.

Overall, navigating the world of digital networking can be challenging. As we mentioned above, we aren’t expert networkers but as students we think we could learn a lot from sharing our experiences with each other. At the end of the day, we hope that at least one tip can help you to be successful in your own networking endeavours.

As students we need to remember that networking takes practice. If there is one key takeaway for us it’s that we shouldn’t wait for connections to come our way. We need to seek them out! When it comes down to it, regardless of the outcome of a particular conversation, the fact that we are putting in effort is what really matters. All connections are relevant. And you never know. The connections we make now could one day be the ticket to landing our dream jobs!

What are some digital networking tactics that have worked for you? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!

nonfiction food gradsAuthors: Meg Marchuk & Cat Boyles –  Meg & Cat are both Master of Professional Studies (MPS) students in Food Science at Cornell University.

They are also the co-creators of Nonfiction Foods, a media platform aimed at bridging the gap between science and the foods we eat every day. Check it out!


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