Affording NU: Don’t assume everyone knows how to network

Allie Goulding, Development & Recruitment Editor

In this series, a writer explores the everyday struggles of being a low-income student at Northwestern.

In my last column, I discussed the requirement I saw on many internship applications: “Previous internship experience is required.” This creates an unnecessary barrier to students who can’t afford to have previous unpaid internship experience.

One of the pieces of feedback I received on that column was to still apply to those internships, regardless of experience, in order to network your way into an internship. While I agree that networking is important, I want to echo one thing the comment said: “Knowing to do this or having connections in the first place is an unseen benefit of growing up rich.”

In high school, I visited a few journalism conferences and workshops in my hometown of San Antonio and throughout Texas, but never once did it occur to me to network with the professionals there. At the time, I didn’t even know what networking was, or how to do it. So instead, I left high school with a total of three connections to the journalism industry — my yearbook advisor, another journalism teacher and a journalist from the San Antonio Express-News that visited our classroom once.

Then, I came to Northwestern and my perception of networking changed entirely. I quickly learned what it was: a combination of your family having connections, attending networking events and exchanging business cards.

The biggest thing I realized, though, was that networking meant knowing someone in the industry already, whether that was through family, friends or previous interactions. The more people you knew, the better.

During my sophomore year, I remember sitting in one of my classes when my friend pulled up this spreadsheet full of journalists, photographers and editors he knew at various publications in Chicago and around the country. I was amazed. I had no idea it was even possible to know that many journalists. How could one student know so many people in the industry as just a sophomore?

My main question, though, was, “Where do you even begin to compile a list like that?”

I tried to make a list for myself: a reporter at the San Antonio Express-News, my Journalism 201-1 and 201-2 professors. But how many of those people would actually remember me, considering I didn’t know to connect and build a networking relationship with them?

I quickly gave up on my list and decided that wasn’t the best way for me to network. But then the question popped up: How do I network? What was the best way for me to network?

Networking isn’t necessarily something that is taught in any of my classes. Nor did I have connections from my family that could be passed down to me (considering my dad is a garbage man, my mother is a work-from-home accountant and my stepdad owned his own mini golf course). They didn’t have connections in the journalism industry, let alone ones that could help me land an internship.

I’ve tried to attend career fairs — sponsored by both Medill and Northwestern — but they didn’t cater to my interests in reporting, design and photography. They primarily focused on STEM, public relations or traditional journalism jobs.

I’ve also had people suggest that I attend out-of-state conferences where the main purpose of the conference is to network. While this is a great opportunity that Medill sometimes helps support financially, it is still not easy to plan when you take into consideration work and travel time. It’s also not easy during the summer, since I live in a region that doesn’t host a lot of conferences.

Networking can certainly help get you where you want to go. But for those who don’t know how to navigate the networking sphere, it can be a challenge and a barrier to internship and job opportunities.

While being at Northwestern is a privilege in and of itself and boosts the ability to network, in order to truly network properly, you need to be able to get your foot in the door by knowing at least one person in the industry. Unfortunately, that’s not something taught at this university. Unless you grow up in the networking sphere, it’s extremely difficult to understand it.

I learned the most about networking from my Journalism 301 professor, Karen Springen, who would invite guest speakers to class, and then give us a moment afterwards to send them a “thank you” note and follow them on Twitter. Hopefully in the future, more professors will discuss networking in class without assuming that students already have these skills.

Allie Goulding is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.