What is "networking" anyway?!
Networking is a valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others, ask questions and tell others about your work. Your personal "network" can include friends, former colleagues and acquaintances with whom you are connected through career interests, skills and groups. These are individuals you want to communicate with regularly and build a business relationship with. Networking is based on the question "How can I help?" and not "What can I get?"
In Networking 101 for New Grads, Robin Madell encourages young job seekers to think about goals for making connections first. She says, "You need to know yourself and what you're looking for career-wise as a precursor to effective networking. That begins with identifying your value and potential career interests."
So what does that really mean? Start by thinking about skills that you already have that have real value. This can include problem solving, time management, written communication and much more. Once you've made a list of skills, start thinking about real-life examples of times you've demonstrated these skills so you can share these stories when you begin to network. For example, if you planned a fundraiser for a campus organization and raised $1,000 for local missions you could give some quick details about what you did and why it was successful to show that you can take on a project, plan well and finish strong.
It can also be helpful to think about and articulate how your past experience and skill-set can lead into a variety of industries and careers. "Consider past experiences in college coursework and group projects, athletics, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, summer jobs, part-time work, etc., that may indicate careers of interest to you," says Bob LaBombard, CEO of GradStaff, Inc. "For example, people with serving experience in a restaurant may be good candidates for customer-facing positions, account management, project management, etc."
Play the student or recent grad card
Alumni and other contacts are more likely to want to help you while you're still a student, career consultant Heather Krasna says. "It's less pressure because the person is just asking for advice," she says, and not yet looking for a job. That means if you want to pick the brain of someone who works in the industry you want to go into or even request an informational interview, now's the time to do it. Grow those relationships while there's no pressure, so those contacts will want to help you when you transition to the work world.
Ask your friends, their parents and other contacts for referrals
No easier way exists to expand your network than to simply ask your current friends, family and associates for the contact information of others whom they think would be beneficial for you to know. The "friend of a friend" connection is quite strong and usually very successful. "Who else should I be talking to?" is a good question to use when asking for referrals.
On the parents of friends front... "They've got decades of experience and are probably willing to share their expertise with you—and maybe even their contacts, too. Students tend to overlook their parents' friends when it comes to networking, but those parents are often well connected or know people who are. They'll still be around after you graduate, but it can be less awkward to ask for their advice and guidance while you're in school," says Jodi Glickman, communications expert and author of Great on the Job. "You want to build up this stable of resources before you need them, so that when you actually are looking for a job, you can go in and tap in," she says.
Use LinkedIn regularly
“Think of LinkedIn as your resume that never sleeps. But a lot more. It's your professional brand in the world. It’s the result you actually want up top when someone Googles you.” (Omar Garriott, Director of Marketing @salesforce.com). Here are 10 LinkedIn tips from Omar for college students and new grads!
Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long to build a career network. If you have trouble getting into the networking habit, try spending half the time you’d normally spend on Instagram on LinkedIn instead.
Contact former professors, college alumni associations and your career-services office
One of the strongest ties that helps in building new and strong networks is sharing the bond of a college or university. Making additional contacts with people affiliated with your college gives you a solid base of shared experiences - and a strong connection to build upon.
Get an internship and take it seriously
This is the most obvious option, but it can't be overstated. The value of an internship is tremendous, both in terms of skills and contacts. Employers often hire full-time workers from their internship pool, which means having an internship puts you ahead of other job seekers. In addition to giving you real-life experience to put on your résumé, an internship puts you in eyesight of people who work in your field of choice who may be a future job reference or even your boss!
Ask for an Informational Interview
Want to connect with someone in your chosen field whom you admire? Request an informational interview to find out what they do and how they got there. This can be in person, via phone or even email. This is a great step in establishing and maintaining connections early.
Track your contacts
"Preparation and tracking are important both before meeting new contacts and afterward. These days it’s a no-brainer to use corporate websites and LinkedIn before an event to learn in advance about the people and companies you’ll meet. 'This type of preparation will impress the people you meet, show your initiative, and demonstrate that you are serious about your job search,' says Bob LaBombard, CEO of Gradstaff.
LaBombard continues, "But organization on the back-end is equally important, to ensure that the time you invest in networking does not go to waste. Develop a spreadsheet or database to track all your contacts, including all their contact information. This is an absolutely critical step, which is often overlooked. Use this database to follow-up as necessary with your contacts via email or telephone.'"
Say Thank You!
Following a conversation or meeting (and especially a job interview) take a few moments to hand-write a thank you note. It will help you stand out! Be sure to collect a business card or save contact information so you have the correct name spelling and address.