Building Your Network as an Underrepresented Student

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By Anush Musthyala, NYU Tandon Class of 2024, Wasserman Career Ambassador

I am a sophomore studying math at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and recently attended the kick off meeting for the First Class initiative. First class provides historically underrepresented NYU students with resources and information to assist in all aspects of their career development process. At the event, Brian Keenan, the founder of Odyssey, came by to present information about how to build your network. Odyssey is a free platform for underrepresented students that will connect you with professionals for 1:1 career conversations. Odyssey hosts career day events for companies such as Google, Mckinsey, Bridgewater, and more. 

Keenan emphasizes the importance of building a strong network. He introduces the idea of an informational interview, where while you may not be interviewing for the job, you are interviewing for a connection. These connections are what can land you the job you want. When meeting a professional, it’s important to have discussion topics. By directly asking for a job or a referral, you risk losing your connection if the professional does not like the way you asked. A few of the discussion questions that can be used to generate conversation and demonstrate your interest in the position:

  1. What’s a typical day like?
  2. What do you love about your job?
  3. What do you hate about your job?
  4. How did you make it onto this career path?

While searching for the job description online can reveal the basic responsibilities and qualifications, personal experiences from a person in that industry will reveal everything else you need to know. The elementary job description can be thought of as “the tip of the iceberg” while the personal experience is what should actually be considered. Industry experience can give you a better insight into the daily duties of a professional and how truly accurate the online description you find is. 

To really ace your informational interview, it’s important to prepare. Try to have a basic understanding of what the job does and curate useful questions to generate conversation and show your interest in the position. It’s important to present yourself well, by being present and on time. Keenan also says it’s important to be mindful and respectful of your interviewer and to be prepared to receive feedback. After the interview, it is crucial to send a follow up. Most of the time, this is an email that circles back to the topics discussed during the interviews, while the email as a whole is aimed to turn a one-time conversation into a relationship. 

A professional mentor is also a great resource to practice your informational interviews. They would be able to provide sample questions and you can even practice your interview skills with them. You would then have a low risk environment in which you are comfortable to talk and fully grasp the idea of an informational interview. Their main goal is to help curate your interests and see what you’re really passionate about; your success is their top priority. To maximize the relationship, you should demonstrate the impact they’ve made, while your professional mentor should also be providing support and advice in return. 

While the internship/recruitment process can be tough, remember to relax and have fun! Keenan emphasizes the importance of approaching this process with a calm mentality and trying to not be overly stressed. Rejections are a normal part of the process, and we should not be discouraged by them. Odyssey has a fantastic list of curated resources and professionals to help you start building your network. For more information, you are encouraged to email, or visit Odyssey’s website for more information.