This week, Career & Professional Development is looking at online networking. We are all familiar with social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but when we think of professional networking, we don’t always think of it in terms of online components. To tackle how to network well – in person and online – we chatted with Erin Shields, Director of Alumni Engagement in Alumni Relations and CPD. 

Portrait of Erin ShieldsHi Erin! Let’s start with a brief summary of what you do in Career & Professional Development. 

Erin: As Director of Alumni and Employer Engagement, I have the opportunity to serve as a bridge between Career & Professional Development and Alumni Relations, University Advancement. I work with all of our alumni and friends who want to be involved in the career development process for our students and other alumni as they are some of the best endorsers of our students and partners in this process. Their involvement can be through mentoring, through our online platform, ZagsConnect, hosting us at regional Treks, or recruiting Zags for internships and full time opportunities at their organizations.   

This week we are focusing specifically on networking, and since a big part of your role is facilitating connections between students and alumni, it is great you had time to chat with us about it. The word “networking” has some specific connotations for students, but what do you think of when you consider “networking”? 

Erin: Networking is accessing the community around you to assist and support you in your goals. We all have networks around us, even if we don’t recognize them as networks. It is about building and cultivating relationships with people who can make recommendations, speak to your skills and your talents, and introduce you to opportunities. 

Who should be networking and why? 

Erin: Students should start as early as possible because not only does it means you are building relationships in a natural, authentic way, but it also gives you more time to practice the skill. This way, by the time you are seriously seeking a job or internship, you have an existing network and the skills to continue to build on it effectively.  

If you delay until your junior or senior year, you will have the pressure to accomplish your end goal rather than the space to build more authentic connections. 

That’s a really good point, but let’s say that you meet with a junior or senior who, for whatever reason, did not start networking early. What can they do to mitigate that pressure and still network effectively now that they have a compressed timeline? 

Erin: I will say that it’s never too late! In an ideal world, you want to start early, but don’t get discouraged and think you’ve missed the opportunity. We have an incredible Gonzaga community of mentors who have volunteered to help you with this exact thing. They are going to be an extra supportive group– they were in your shoes and understand where you are at.  

In fact, over the several weeks, we have had great outreach from alumni asking “how can we support the class of 2020?” and “how can we support students and other alumni with their careers in this challenging time?” So they are out there and they want to assist you. 

How can students tap into these alumni? 

Erin: We have 2,800 alumni mentors who are part of the Gonzaga Alumni Mentor Program. They are all over the country in a wide variety of career fields and some are working abroad. Of these mentors, we have about 600 who are available on our online platform, ZagsConnect. It’s like LinkedIn, but exclusively for the Gonzaga community, so the first step is to join ZagsConnect. Take a little time to build your profile, and then you can explore the mentors in that system. You can search by keyword, major, location, etc. You can message anyone in the system you are interested in you and even schedule a meeting. In addition to ZagsConnect, I can assist students with additional mentors who are not yet on the new platform.  

We also have Alumni Chapters in areas all over the country and internationally These are alumni and friends who gather in their location for service projects, spirituality programming, game watches and networking events. They are a fantastic resource if you are interested in opportunities in a specific city, or if you are home during the summer. 

A lot of the networking right now is going to be focused online because of COVID-19. What are some of the differences and similarities between online vs. In person networking? 

Erin: Without the opportunity to have the face-to-face interactions at socials or networking events, you want to make sure that your online profiles are up to date. I recommend students have a LinkedIn profile and a ZagsConnect profile. You want to make sure your most recent coursework, internship, job or volunteer and leadership experience is on that profile. Think about things you did in your classes, clubs, organizations and keep that updated just like you would with a resume because people will likely be looking at that first before interacting with you. You will also use bullets and the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results) to detail your accomplishments in each experience just like you would with a resume. You can have anyone from Career & Professional Development review your online profiles before you start making online connections. 

You also want to make sure you are familiar with the digital resources you will be using to meet with people. Practice using Zoom, Skype, whatever platform you will be using prior to your meeting. Make sure you can share screens, and use the technology effectively and comfortably. 

If you are having an interface with an employer or alumni, be thoughtful about your environment as well—whether it’s over a video call or regular phone call. You want to be somewhere quiet with a non-distracting background in a well-lit area. Make sure you have a good internet connection. 

What other tips do you have for students who have never networked before and are not sure where to start? 

Erin: Think about your elevator pitch. They call it an elevator pitch based on the idea that if you found yourself in an elevator with the CEO of your dream company, and you have 30 seconds, what would you say to them? How would you present yourself? It’s going to include your educational background, your experience, your key strengths, and where you are at and what you are looking for. So, a little about you, what you bring to the table, and your goals.  

It’s a good idea to write the elevator pitch down and practice it in front of the mirror and with people. You want to get very comfortable with it, so it is not robotic but conversational. Once you are comfortable with this, it is something you will use to initiate conversations, but also in interviews, introductory emails, and cover letters.  

I will also emphasize how important it is to listen and be fully engaged, rather than waiting for your turn to speak. Eye contact, smiling and nodding are important. It’s okay to take pauses before answering a question. You should be prepared to answer why you are interested in your major, a specific job, specific company, etc. Take time to reflect on those questions and your answers so you have ideas ready when these questions come up. 

What else should students know about CPD and/or Alumni Relations? 

Erin: I think the most important thing they should know, and I’ve been asked this a lot in the last few weeks, is that everything we offer—including our alumni network, CPD services, etc.– are still available after you graduate. This is one of the many great things that sets Gonzaga apart. When we say Zags for Life, we mean it. You are a part of this community forever—a community in which generosity and the spirit of giving back is ingrained. If you are struggling, if you feel stuck, frustrated, alone—you’re not. We’re here to help. We are available to serve you in any way we can now, just as if we were all on campus together. If you are a student, an alum, we are here—please engage with us. 

Thanks to Erin for sharing her knowledge and helping us untangle the how-to of networking. If you want to learn more about Erin, Alumni Relations, or any of the resources mentioned in our interview, check out the links below!

Ready to try your hand at online networking? Sign up for the 2020 Los Angeles Treks- taking place on May 19 via Zoom. Pre-registration is open at

Los Angeles Trek promo image. States date of May 19, 2020 from 9am-4pm via Zoom.