Your top networking tools


How not to respond when professional or social contacts ask you about your job:

“I am a press secretary. I write news releases and develop media strategies. I am looking for a new job because my boss is a pain in the neck.”

To be ready when asked about your career and your career goals, you need what I call an elevator speech — an energetic summary of your achievements, a description of your target job if you are job hunting and any relevant credentials. Most important, your speech needs to be concise — short enough to deliver during an elevator ride. Purge negativity about your boss or employer. Your descriptions of substantive problems that you have solved will sound more impressive than your descriptions of your office’s problems.

Your armamentarium of networking tools should also include:

*Your résumé. Before you start networking, craft a concise, reader-friendly, eye-catching version in Microsoft Word. Don’t copy versions you’ve submitted to online application systems that don’t accept modern formatting features, such as bold type and bullets, and are hard to read.

Update your résumé every time you finish a major project, earn another credential or change your contact information.

Whenever a networking contact requests your résumé, convert your résumé to a PDF document so that its formatting isn’t fouled up when you send it electronically. And e-mail it within 24 hours of the request for it.

Consider creating a Web site that serves as a portfolio of your work. Your site should include: a downloadable PDF version of your résumé; documents and photos that showcase your achievements; and links to other Web sites that feature your work products. Include the Web address on your résumé.

*Your business card. Even if your employer supplies you with business cards, consider creating your own networking cards, preferably with the help of a graphic artist who will give your card a polished design. You can print hundreds for less than $20.

Your card should include your name followed by your professional title — both of which should be formatted for prominence. Feel free to give yourself a professional title that is more impressive than your job title. For example, if you are an environmental lawyer who received a distinguished award in your field, you could call yourself an “Award-Winning Environmental Attorney.”

Include a short, bulleted list of your best credentials. Your opening bullet might summarize your experience with a statement such as, “15+ years of experience managing high-dollar federal contracts.” Remaining bullets should itemize your most important credentials, awards or degrees. Include the addresses of any professional Web sites you maintain and your contact information.

A good elevator speech

When networking, you should have ready an “elevator speech” — a concise, energetic summary of your achievements and goals. For example:

“I am the press secretary for Congressman X. Congressman X is the 10th most influential member of the House, so the office is extremely fast paced.

“In a typical week, I prepare Congressman X for several appearances on national news shows and churn out many news releases for the national media on topics from climate change to the stimulus package.

“Last week, I coordinated the staff to contact media in the districts of all members who favored a gun-rights bill that we opposed. It was thrilling to see the resulting favorable editorials appear in newspapers throughout the U.S., which effectively defeated the bill in Congress.

“My credentials also include an M.A. in journalism and a B.A. in environmental studies, both from the University of Maryland.

“My job has taught me much about Congress. But I’m currently looking for a communications position that exclusively addresses environmental issues.”

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.


About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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