For students and recent grads on the prowl for a job, the idea of networking can be stressful. Stereotypical thoughts of black suits, business cards, cold calling, and forced conversations are enough to make you consider grad school to avoid the process.
But the business of helping job seekers make professional connections has grown in recent years, resulting in more casual and even fun resources for job seekers. Meeting new career contacts is less of a task and more of a lifestyle, complete with happy hours and Facebook. To meet your full networking potential, read the list below to learn how and with whom you should be networking before, during, and after your four years in college.
Make an effort to connect with professors in your department. Take the time to meet with them after class or during office hours to discuss your coursework and talk about post-grad plans. Professors are experts of their fields, and companies looking to hire fresh talent will often ask for their help and advice when scouting job candidates. By building a relationship with your professors, you will be pushing yourself to the top of their go-to list should opportunities arise. And that relationship shouldn’t end after graduation. Keeping in touch and networking with professors could continue paying off long after you leave campus.
TRY IT!After your next paper or test grade comes back, make it a point to visit your professor during office hours. Ask for feedback on the assignment to break the ice, but then steer the conversation toward your larger career goals.
An oft-overlooked source for networking is alumni from your college or university. Many schools have programs or websites connected with their career centers and alumni associations that help current students and grads find career opportunities through alumni.
Launched in 2007, Temple University’s MyOwlSpace.com is one example. The alumni networking site allows current students and alumni to access career-related articles, search job postings, register for alumni association and university events, reconnect with classmates, and explore mentoring opportunities.
Ingrid Heim Thack, assistant vice president of alumni communications, says alumni are ideal candidates for helping students navigate their career options. Thack says alumni can offer insights on how to best put your degree to work and what types of internships and entry-level positions to consider. “Our alumni have a genuine interest in the success of our students and serve as great connections for employment,” she says. “In addition, our alumni are highly successful in their fields, understand the value of hard work and serve as a source of inspiration for current students.”
TRY IT!Sign up for your university’s online alumni network and browse around for people in your desired industry. Contact at least two people and introduce yourself.
REGIONAL NETWORKING EVENTS
If you live in or near a big city and want to stay there after graduation, a good way to feel out the job market and the professionals working in it is through regional networking events and associations. Depending where you live, larger organizations like JobsInDallas.com, NYJobSource.com, andCareerPhilly.com not only have job listings but host and post job fairs—which is, of course, a great way to distribute your resume, pass out business cards, and make some helpful connections.
Other topic-specific national networking organizations have branch groups located in multiple cities and regions. Green Drinks, for example, connects individuals who share an interest in environmentally friendly careers. Downtown Women’s Club helps businesswoman connect, and Work Ministry is an association that assists faith-based and community organizations in developing job support groups.
TRY IT!Get business cards made that include your contact information and skills. Then take those cards and some copies of your resume to an event specific to your region or – even better – interests. Bring a friend for moral support.
INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
One of the best ways to network is through professional organizations, and specifically, those that are industry-specific. Niche networking organizations allow you to make professional connections in your industry, whether it’s agriculture, accounting, or art.
One such resource is The BOSS Group’s CreativeConnects®, which hosts events for creative professionals (think designers, writers, and photographers). Jenna Stone, director of marketing and communications for The BOSS Group, says industry-specific networking groups just make more sense. “It’s easier to have conversations because you have something in common already,” says Stone. “Or you can connect about something you need in your current job. If it’s just a regional job event, your chances of making useful connections are lower, and those tend to became sales events.”
TRY IT! Look up professional organizations through Weddle’s Association Directory, or just try Googling “[your industry] networking events.” For example, “Technology Networking Events.”
Networking sites like LinkedIn.com, Ryze.com, and NetworkingForProfessionals.com are different from professional and regional organizations in the way that they are based on the “sixth degrees of separation” theory of association. These sites use the Internet to turn who you are, who you know, and what you know into a huge web of connectivity.
These sites work well to put you in touch with lost contacts, and to showcase your resume online. Your profile helps you find and be found by former colleagues, clients, and partners—but it’s up to you to reach out and get advice, arrange meetings, and make career connections.
TRY IT! Search through your contacts’ contacts for somebody in a position or at a company that interests you. Then, reach out to the shared contact to ask for introduction.
Although many social networking sites are aimed at nonprofessional networking, they can also play a role in your career development. After all, your friends make up an enormous part of your network. Through a single connection on a social networking site such as Facebook, MySpace, or Friendster, you may automatically be linked to thousands of people, one of which may be helpful in your job search.
TRY IT! Change your status to “Networking” and clean up your online image. Then browse your friends’ profiles as you would a professional networking site—and if anything intrigues you about a friend’s work history, ask them about it.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Although you may not like it, family members and friends often have strong opinions about your life, and more specifically, what career you should pursue and how you should pursue it. The people closest to you typically know your strengths and weaknesses, so it might not be such a bad thing to solicit their advice.
Parents and other relatives who have been out in the workforce also might have suggestions of who you should network with to find jobs and career advice. Instead of rolling your eyes and declaring your independence, reach out to the contacts they offer. After all, maybe your neighbor’s brother could end up being the missing link between you and your next job offer.
TRY IT!At your next family or neighborhood gathering, open up about your current job situation and the kind of position you’re seeking. And don’t be afraid to let people know that any and all contacts are welcome.